Monthly Archives: April 2015

Review of Wendy Barkett’s Poetry Book, Shadows of a Dark-Alley Adoptee:

Wendy Barkett’s autobiographical book of adoption-themed poetry, Shadows of a Dark-Alley Adoptee, is both eloquent and brutally honest. Her artful words give the reader a glimpse into the inner world of what adopted people might be sensing about their lives.  

For example, the poem, “Did You?” explores what we would ask or say if we had the chance to talk to a missing birth mother. “You Don’t Know Me” addresses the fact that since, as adoptees, we don’t know all the facts about ourselves, how do we find self-acceptance?  It doesn’t matter if those facts are good or bad; we still have a craving to know the truth. “I Cried” demonstrates that adopted people have unique feelings and frustrations. We acknowledge that other people can try their darnedest to console or “help” us, but it still may do no good.  Sometimes being adopted and living with our thoughts is isolating and a very inward journey.  

Personally, I liked the “Medium” and “Game on” poems because I could relate these to my experiences as a fellow adoptee who searched.  Hooray for supportive husbands and honeys who cheer for our efforts!  

For a curious reader who is limited on time but wants to either learn about adoptee issues or relate to similar experiences and feelings, this is a great read.  Ms. Barkett writes directly and honestly in both rhyme and free-verse styles from her perspective as an adopted adult from a sealed-records era when adoption was extra-secretive and taboo.

Welcome, Contributing Author, Becky Drinnen, from The Adoptee Survival Guide! #flipthescript #adopteesurvivalguide

Qs for Becky Drinnen:

1-  Hi Becky!  First, please share with us a bit about yourself:  Your career, married, kids, pets, where you’re from?

Hi Paige!  It’s great to be here with you.    I’m a proud, lifelong Ohioan.  It looks like Southwest Ohio is the place to be for adoptee writers!  Isn’t it great that Lynn Grubb, you and I all live within a couple of hours of each other?   My husband, Ed, and I have four children and nine grandchildren between us.  And let me just say, being a Mom and Grandma is one of the greatest joys in life!  

I’ve spent most of my work life in Corporate America, with a brief stint in Higher Education.  I work for a small, family owned manufacturer, so I wear many hats at work.  One of my primary roles is Export Compliance Manager.  You think adoption laws are complicated?  You should try to make sense of all the rules and regulations that govern exports from the United States! 

2- Please tell us about your adoption:  When?  Where?  Were you in foster care for any of that time?

[My adoption was facilitated by what was then called Lutheran Children’s Aid and Family Services in Cleveland, Ohio.  I was born in 1962, in the heart of the Baby Scoop Era.  I was in foster care for about three months prior to placement with my adoptive parents.

I asked the agency why I was in foster care for that time.  Their response:  “apparently the three months before she surrendered you were spent attempting to work out the possibility of marriage and evaluating other possible means for her to keep you”.  Once I spoke to my mother, I found out that was a total fabrication.  She wasn’t able to see me or hold me after my birth. In fact, she “surrendered” me before she left the hospital. She was surprised to learn that I was almost three months old before I was placed with my parents.  My personal belief is that the practice of the agency was to make sure an infant was healthy before placing them with adoptive parents. 

Over the last 30 or so years, I’ve been able put many of the pieces of my puzzle together, but nothing about those three months in foster care.  I don’t even have details about my baptism.  A notation that I “was baptized on July 16, 1962 by a Lutheran minister”.  That’s it.  I’ve asked the agency for more details.  According to them, they did not keep records about foster care or baptism.   A direct quote from the current business manager at Lutheran Family Services, as they are called now, during a recent conversation on that topic: “ There were so many babies at that time that it would have been burdensome for agencies to keep detailed records”.  Yes.  Really.  She said that.  Along with, “if your baptism is so concerning to you, why don’t you ask your pastor to re-baptize you”.  Yes.  Really.  She said that, too. 

I say this to vent some frustration on the topic, but also to demonstrate the dark side of adoption.  Adoption marketing portrays two happy parents with their newly adopted infant.  Two problems solved, right?   The marketing doesn’t talk about the trauma a mother shamed into relinquishing her child experiences.  Nor does it talk about the fact that, for all intents and purposes, the period of time between birth and placement was not worthy of even a scrap of paper in a dusty file. 

3- Like me, you were born and adopted prior to January of 1964, which means you had access to your records prior to this past March 20th. When did you become aware that you could search? and at what age did you do it?

I found out that I could get a copy of my original birth certificate through a newspaper article I read when I was about twenty.  The article was about a reunion between a mother and the daughter she placed for adoption. A little sidebar to that article mentioned that Ohio adults who were adopted prior to 1964 could get a copy of their adoption file.   I was in Columbus just a few days later, as soon as I could arrange a day off work.  I don’t have a specific memory of calling to find out the process.  I imagine I could have mailed the request.  But I had the option to request it in person, and in the interest of instant gratification, that’s what I did. 

 I remember the clerk bringing me the documents.  At first I was confused; the first form I saw had the names of my adoptive parents.  It was the information that was needed to create my second, amended birth certificate.  So many of my memories are fuzzy, but I can still play that short little movie over in my head of the moment when I first laid eyes on my first birth certificate.  I had a name.  Laura.  And the mysterious mother I had wondered about for so long had a name, too.  And an age.  She was 20 when I was born.  Just about the same age as I was at the time.  I also remember the clerk asking me if I wanted a copy.  Are you kidding?  I can’t believe she even asked that question!   I walked out of that office with my original identity.  And no idea of what I needed to do next.

I feel fortunate that I happened upon that article.  If not, who knows how long it would have been before I discovered my right to my original birth record.  In the lead up to the implementation of Ohio’s new law in March, 2015, I spoke with several pre-1964 Ohio adoptees who STILL had no idea they could request their records.

4- What were your motivating reasons for searching and wanting to make contact with bio-family?

My Dad was a history teacher.  I learned from him to value the importance of history.  Yet, I was denied my personal history.  The questions I had about the parents who gave me life probably sound familiar to every adoptee.  Who do I look like?  Who do I act like?  Why was I given up for adoption?  Did my mother hold me?  Does she ever think of me?  Does she remember my birthday?  What’s my family health history? 

5- Like me, you also did your research way before the Internet and social media happened. What resources did you use?

Once I had a name, I naively thought finding her would happen overnight.  BG (Before Google), it took a lot longer than it would if I began my search today.  I was also searching with no clue about what to do and how to go about a search.  And I didn’t reach out to anyone for help.  At that time, I really didn’t know that anyone could help me.  I felt very alone in my journey. 

I used some of the same sources that we use today to find people.  It just took a lot longer.  I started with what I knew.  I had a name, an address and an age.  At that time, Ohio Vital Statistics would do a ten-year search of vital records for a specific event for something like $10.  I started with a birth certificate for my mother.  That gave me the names of her parents.  I went on to request a marriage record for her.  Voila, I had her married name.  Next, birth certificates for other children born to her and her husband.  Bam.  I confirmed she stayed married to the same person for a period of time, and I was able to see where she was living when children were born. Phone calls to libraries to check city directories and phone books. And newspapers for obituaries.  It took way more time than it would today, but I was able to find her. All with public records – nothing illegal and nothing that isn’t available to anyone who asks. All the resources I used are what genealogists use every day to piece together their family history. 

6- What sort of changes / reforms would you like to see happen in adoption today?

What a great question. Thanks for asking!   First, all adopted adults, no matter where they live, should have access to the original record of their birth.  It is a basic civil right that every American has – every American except adoptees in closed states.  Restoring access to records is truly not about search.  Some adoptees want their original birth certificates, but choose not to search.  And we all know that successful searches happen every day without original birth certificates.   You and I both know from experience just how powerful and validating it is to hold our original birth certificates in our hands. 

Second, the laws governing adoption need to focus on preserving families and protecting children. I’m not anti-adoption.  However, I think the first priority should be family preservation.   Current laws favor adoption agencies and adoptive parents, not expectant parents and their babies.  Infant adoption is profitable to agencies, which I believe is unethical.  And it should be illegal. Much has been written on this topic.  One great place to start is Claudia D’Arcy’s site, Musings of the Lame. 

 Laws can and should be changed, but we can do more.  As an example, a non profit in my area, Rustic Hope, provides housing, diapers and other baby needs, food, and rides to medical appointment to teen moms. We need to support non profits that provide emotional and material support to mothers in crisis who might otherwise feel they have no choice but to place their children for adoption.

 7- What do you do for fun in your free time?

Let’s just say I wish I had MORE free time!  My husband and I love to travel and to camp.  Our favorite camping spot is in the Smoky Mountains – we head down that way a couple times a year.  I think an out-west trip is on the agenda for this year.   I love spending time outside – walking, or just sitting by the fire.  I’ll take a hike in a scenic location over a man-made tourist attraction any time!  Watching our grandkids play in sporting events is also a big part of our lives.   And reading – I have to make time for books! 

8- I love the advice you gave in your Adoptee Survival Guide essay about not accepting the status quo or “no” for an answer, and that there are many ways to effect change for ourselves and others.  That’s a very powerful paragraph!  Just have to say that!

Thanks, Paige!  As adoptees, we have had a lot of choices made for us.  That doesn’t take away our ability to make decisions and choices for our lives.

9-  How can readers and other adoptees connect with you?  FB, Twitter, Linkedin, blog(s), etc.

 I occasionally blog about adoption-related topics at www.puzzlesandpossibilities.com.  You can find me by searching Becky Drinnen on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn, too!

Interview with Contributing Author, Jodi Gibson Haywood from The Adoptee Survival Guide:

 1-  Hi Jodi,  Please tell us about yourself:  your current career, education, married, kids, pets, etc:

Married for 15 years to my best friend. We have a 14-year-old daughter and I have a stepdaughter in her mid 30s. My educational background is in creative writing, and I’m currently working as a freelance author. This is my second contribution to an adoption anthology; I wrote for Adoption Therapy (edited by Laura Dennis, Entourage Publishing, 2014) and am working on a chapter for the second Adoption Therapy book. I’ve also written a church history book and am under contract for several young-adult novels. I’m working on completing an undergraduate degree in psychology, and from there I want to go into social work, counseling, and/or neuropsychology research.

As for pets, I’ve had a few dogs and cats over the years, and want to get another dog when the time is right. I had a rottweiler who was like my therapy dog – she saw me through the deaths of my stepson, my dad, and my aunt who adopted me, and then she died in 2011. I still miss her. 

(Awwww…Pets do mean a lot!)

2-  Please tell us about your adoption.  When / In what era and location did it happen?

My adoption took place in the mid 1970s. I was born in 1973, taken from the UK in 1975 and the adoption was finalized in 1977 just before I turned 4. I do have my OBC from England, but that was a recent discovery; I found it after my aunt died in 2010. Until then I didn’t believe it still existed. From what I can piece together, the reason it took so long is because my parents didn’t want to sign the papers to relinquish me. I don’t know if both parents had to sign or just my mom, and they weren’t together by then, but both of them were opposed to it.

3- According to your essay, it was a unique situation.  Please share.  How did you find out?  Have you been able to find your truth(s)?  Do you have relationships with your original family?

I always knew I was adopted – I can’t remember a time I didn’t know. Or when I didn’t have questions about it. I kept those questions inside most of the time, and when I did ask them I never got a straight answer. They’d tell me when I was older. I had all kinds of social and behavioral problems, and had to see a psychiatrist in sixth grade. All I wanted to talk about was my real parents, where they were, who they were, why did they give me away, and finally around my 12th birthday they decided to tell me the truth. I don’t know what made up their minds; if it was something the psychiatrist said, or if it was because we were spending the summer in England and I was going to meet my so-called Uncle George, but after 10 years of living with them and wondering about my origins, they finally admitted “Uncle George” was my father. I’m pretty sure that if they hadn’t told me, he would have, and it was best I hear it from them and have a month or so to adjust to it before I met him. I was like, “so you’re really my aunt, can I call you Aunt now?” and she said NO. But inside me, in my thoughts and feelings, they were always my aunt and uncle after that. They’d never felt like parents to me and I was glad to have another way to define the relationship.

My father died in 2009, and my aunt adopter – his sister – less than 4 months later. I’ve been in reunion with my mother for 16 years now and it’s all good. I have a good relationship with her and my stepfather. My only regret is that I still have some half-siblings out there somewhere and have never located them.

(I’m so sorry for your losses.  I hope you can connect w siblings one day!)

4-  if you have kids, what have you shared with them?

My daughter knows who my parents are. She never had the opportunity to meet my dad, but she has met my mom & stepfather and they keep in contact. My aunt adopter was “Grandma” to her because she wouldn’t have it any other way, and with my mom living in Ireland and my mother-in-law no longer living, she was the only “grandma” she got to see, so at least she had that relationship. She won’t have anything to do with my uncle, but that is her decision entirely and I haven’t tried to change her mind. He alienated her the same way he did me, the same verbal abuse and shaming.

5-  If you feel there are negative aspects to (your) adopted life, (how) have you been able to turn them into a positive?

It’s hard to say whether I’ve turned the numerous negative aspects into positives, or just created positive things in my life that have nothing to do with adoption. There were really no positive aspects about the adoption. I wasn’t orphaned or relinquished; my aunt deliberately took me and withheld the fact she was my aunt, and that’s no way to raise a child. I took back my surname, reclaimed my identity when I was 19. I have uncovered the lies I was told and established a relationship with my mother. My daughter has never had to wonder who or where her parents are, and she’s free to define her own relationships with my side of the family. I still feel like an orphan in exile, without a country to call my own, and I don’t think that’s ever going to change. It’s the worst thing about international adoption. But I have my family, friends I consider family and my faith in God, and those are the places of belonging I’ve found. 

(Good for you in finding other outlets for joy!)

5- What sort of changes/reforms would you like to see happen in adoption?

I’d like to see the entire adoption industry overhauled and the concept of “ownership” replaced with guardianship. Infertility and entitlement are not reasons to adopt. Financial assistance should be given to family preservation, not as incentives to potential adopters. Birth certificates need to reflect a child’s actual parentage, not the adoptive caregivers, and whenever parents or other blood relatives want to be part of the child’s life, they should be allowed to, as long as there is no abuse. Kids do need to be safe from abusive parents or family members, but even when it’s necessary to remove children from abusive homes, that’s no reason to erase their entire identity and falsify their birth certificates. With situations like I grew up in, guardianship or kinship arrangements should be sufficient. Kids can live with their grandparents or aunts & uncles without sacrificing their name, parentage, and contact with other family members. It should be up to us, and only us, who we call “Mom” or “Dad”. And finally there should be the same level of accountability with adoption as there is with foster care. Adoption, regardless of age, is a traumatic life event and not all kids deal with trauma the same way. Everyone from prospective adopters to part-time caregivers to teachers and school counselors must be aware that these kids have experienced developmental trauma and might have some problems as a result.

(Absolutely!)

6- What do you do for fun when you have free time?

My idea of fun usually involves training for marathons or some other strenuous activity. I don’t relax much. I read a lot; I prefer books to movies, but I’ll watch true crime shows, unsolved mysteries, historical documentaries…I like to learn things. The human mind fascinates me – psychology, mental illness, neurology. I was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s – high-functioning autism – which might explain that field of study; I always knew something was different in my head. LOL. We do a lot of family road trips, exploring historic sites, museums, old bookstores, odd or unusual places. I usually find something to inspire a new story. 

(Cool!  You fit right in w my peeps!   LOL  Yeah, I work w a lot of “SPED” students and came up w the term, “adoptism” because of that. My students like that inspire me.  I think there are spectrums for a lot of things.)

7- How can readers and others interested in your adoption efforts reach you?  ( blogs, FB, Twitter, etc.)

I don’t have a blog but I have a Facebook page for my book, Attachment Unavailable?, which I’m still working on.https://www.facebook.com/AttachmentUnavailable.haywood?fref=ts

 It’s about the impact adoption has had on my journey, life “on the spectrum”, and the attachment struggles many adoptees experience. It’s about why I disagree with the label “attachment disorder” when the dual trauma of relinquishment and adoption pretty much guarantees we will have some difficulty with trust and, therefore, attachment. 

(Interesting!  I want to read this soon!)

8- Anything else you’d like to add?

One more comment…I think that’s a great insight you gave in your essay about adoption being like a spectrum disorder. Brilliant. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but since being diagnosed with autism I’m in 100% agreement. If you’ve met one adoptee, you’ve met one adoptee 🙂 there is no such thing as a “typical” one. 

I’m very interested in how developmental disabilities affect our ability to process severe trauma, as in the area of relinquishment/adoption. Is it easier or harder to manage? I wonder if I might have had an easier time in school if the Asperger’s diagnosis was available back then and if there’d been more awareness/acceptance of how the adoption affected me. Going back over the doctors’ files, it looks as if they picked up on it, but my aunt adopter refused to acknowledge it, so I can’t fault the professionals at all. 

jodi

I think you’re on to something!  Yes!  I had an elementary school counselor/O.T. who had a lot of questions re my own delayed development connected adoption. Of course, my parents didn’t have much info to give her…    : P

Thanks so much for the interview, Jodi!  It was great getting to know you better!