Posted by: Linda Hoye | July 20, 2010

Dawn Espelage on Life Books

Today I am happy to welcome Dawn Espelage to Arms of Adoption to tell us a bit about a tool she uses in her work to help children build a sense of their own identity and self-esteem. In this post Dawn shares with us why a Life Book can be a powerful resource for an adopted child; she will be back to tells us more about how to create a life book in a few weeks.  Welcome Dawn!

I am honored to be Linda’s guest for this blog post. Although I am not an adoptive parent or adoptee, adoption has touched me both personally and professionally and is a subject I am passionate about. Every child deserves a safe, nurturing home and every child has a right to their identity. Like bittersweet chocolate, adoption has a velvety texture that’s rich in emotion and joy with the bitter undertones of loss. Adoption has been shrouded in secrecy under the auspices of “closed” for decades, leaving many adoptees to navigate their way through life with questions about identity and self- worth.

One of the reasons I am an avid reader of Arms of Adoption is that individual stories are powerful and moving. They also serve in the healing process. Until such time as U.S. legislation provides for some form of openness in a safe, supportive way, adoptive parents and professionals can use the telling of individual story through Life Books. Variations of this process (and it is about the process more than the product) have been around since the 1970’s although they are not always used consistently or appropriately.

Ideally, a Life Book is a compilation of the child’s past, present and future and is completed with the child, not for the child. Filling in the gaps for a child in an honest, secure way can enhance feelings of self-worth. In essence, a Life Book is a record complete with the adoptee’s feelings, pictures, history (both birth and adoptive),
school information, medical information, talents and interests; it is a reflection of where those traits may have come from, a recognition and acceptance of loss inherent in adoption and a celebration of all the gifts received from both birth and adoptive families. Give your child (or yourself!) the gift of their blended identity.

Dawn Espelage has worked as a social worker in foster care adoption for 13 years. She is an advocate for the 120,000 children in foster care in the United States waiting for a forever family. Dawn facilitates training and support groups for foster/adopt parents and teaches Life Book classes.

Dawn is also a life journey guide for women, utilizing writing prompts and art journals as a way to facilitate telling our stories. She is the author of “Life Lines: Celebrate Your Journey.” Visit Dawn @ http://lifelinesjournaling.com or http://lifelinesjournaling.blogspot.com/

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Posted by: Linda Hoye | July 17, 2010

Truth Heals

Nothing good can come from secrecy and deception. I was adopted over fifty years ago and the closed adoption deception that was common in those days affects me still. Those untouched by adoption may wonder how an experience that happened so long ago, when I was an infant, still affects me today. Sometimes I have wondered that myself.

Nancy Verrier , author of The Primal Wound says some things in her Position Statement that address those questions. 

She says that “It is important to recognize that the adoptee was present when the substitution of mothers took place. The experience was real. That he does not consciously remember the event should not detract us from this truth.” Recently, I learned that “baby Linda” was in the court room when my birth mother relinquished her rights to me; I was present both physically and emotionally.

Verrier speaks about “a loss of the Self“, “a sense that part of oneself has disappeared, a feeling of incompleteness, a lack of wholeness“, and “a physical sense of bodily incompleteness” that an adopted child may sense. I experienced all of those in one degree or another over the years.

The key, I believe, to the adoptee moving past these feelings is throwing open the windows of secrecy and allowing the light of truth to fill every nook and cranny. Verrier agrees and says that “One of the greatest hindrances to healing is denial.”  It’s common sense in most areas of life, that truth heals, but for some reason secrecy has shrouded the subject of adoption for too long. We who have lost our heritage, our past, our Self, stand silent no longer. We deserve the same basic rights that everyone else has: an original birth certificate, access to our medical records, and the opportunity to know and honor our heritage.

An angry-adoptee I am not. What I am, is a woman who has been blessed to have experienced the healing that truth can bring who wants to do what I can to keep those windows open for myself and for others.

Posted by: Linda Hoye | July 4, 2010

Dear Betty Jean Lifton

In pulling together what I want to say in my memoir, I have been wading through reams of documents, papers, photographs, and letters over the past couple of years. Recently I came across this letter that I had written (but not mailed) to Betty Jean Lifton after I read Lost and Found twenty-six years ago. As I reread it yesterday I was struck once more with how the secrecy of closed adoption affected me.

I am blessed to have been adopted and grown up in the family I did, but I am also thankful for the work that has been done by Ms. Lifton and others to shed light on the impact of closed adoption on the adoptee. My hope in writing my memoir, and in sharing this letter, is that the all the doors and windows of secrecy and shame are flung open and the light of truth is allowed to shine.

Dear Mrs. Lifton:

I read your book Lost and Found last night and it was truly like coming home.  Never have I been so moved by a book or felt such a kinship to the people in a book.  From the very first page I felt that finally I was not so alone – that my feelings were not so strange.

I was adopted at three months old and have never been told anything about my “birth” parents.  I was the classic case.  I was totally surprised when I read in your book about the “Chosen Baby Story”.  Yes, I was told this story – even asked to recite it to friends of my parents while I, myself, was never comfortable with it.  Up until last night, I believed that my parents chose me from a room full of babies when I (at three months old?) put my arms out and reached for them.

Although I always knew that I had been adopted, the subject was taboo in our house.  My parents were caught up in the game that I belonged to them alone and I learned at a very early age to play along with them. I remember how my parents continually told me how I looked like my adopted mother (and still do).  When I was sixteen years old, I was diagnosed as having scoliosis – curvature of the spine.  Because this is hereditary my doctor wanted to know if there was any family history of it.  I remember sitting there amazed as my parents said that no there was no history of it, never mentioning that I had been adopted.

I have always felt that to talk about being adopted was to betray my adoptive parents who were so caught up in the fantasy.  In high school when we were doing our family trees, I told my teacher that I was adopted and had no family tree.  I still remember how guilty I felt for telling The Secret.  When I was on my own and living in a different city and went to a new doctor – I gave all my family history, dutifully just like my parents had when I was sixteen.

I have always had feelings of isolation, loneliness, and that there was something missing.  I’ve always felt different from everyone else and yearned for someone who looked like me who I could identify with.  All these feelings have been unexplained to me and I have never been able to understand why I feel this way.  Your book has shown me that there is a reason and I’m not so alone after all.

Of course in the back of my mind, I’ve always dreamed of meeting my birth mother.  Because of the fantasy my adoptive parents had, I never pursued it.  I decided that I would wait and hope that my birth mother would fine me.

I’m now seriously considering making the search – not to find a “mother” but to find out why I was born and who I really am.

I think you so much for your wonderful book.  I finally feel that I am really not so different and have found the courage that I needed to begin my own search.

Sincerely,

Linda Melville

Posted by: Linda Hoye | June 29, 2010

The Unbreakable Child

Recently I had the honor and privilege of compiling a set of discussion questions to be included in the new edition of Kim Richardson’s memoir The Unbreakable Child due out in October of this year.  I first read Kim’s story last year and reviewed the first edition for Story Circle Book Reviews; my second reading of her book was no less heartbreaking than the first.

Kim spent much of her childhood in an orphanage and endured horrific abuse at the hands of those who were supposed to care for her; her story is one of both heartbreak and triumph.  I have been immersed in my own memoir in the months since I first read Kim’s book so my thoughts naturally turned to adoption as I read her story this time. I couldn’t help but think about how Kim’s life might have been different had she been adopted and found a forever family. 

As an adoptee I wondered many times over the years what my own life might have been like had I not been adopted. When I first learned the circumstances of my birth and the history of my birth-family, I sometimes speculated how I might have turned out if I had grown up in that environment. In what ways would I be different? How would I be the same? Is the person I am today more a product of nature or nurture?

I’ve settled on believing that the answer is both.  As I got to know members of my birth-family I was struck with personality traits that we had in common, and surprised to learn that I had taken similar paths to those who had gone before me. On the other hand, my parents who loved and cared for me left their own hand print on the woman I grew up to be.  I can be exacting and disciplined like Dad was; I share moments with my daughter that seem like deja vu when compared with some precious moments I shared with Mom before she died.

Regardless of what made me who I am today, the fact remains that I am thankful that I grew up in the family I did, and eternally grateful for the sacrifice my birth-mother made to allow me to have a life that she could never have given me.

Posted by: Linda Hoye | May 22, 2010

Good News from Illinois

“It’s a basic human right to be able to access one’s birth records.”  These words were spoken by adoptee and Chicago Democratic Representative Sara Feigenholtz who has pushed for open adoption records for years. 

Today Illinois Governor Pat Quinn today signed into law a measure allowing people who were adopted as children to access their birth records to find out more about their past.  Read more here

Thank you Governor, it’s the right thing to do.

Posted by: Linda Hoye | May 15, 2010

Closed Adoption

I always knew I was adopted.  It wasn’t something we talked much about in my family, and I can’t remember a specific incident of being told, it was just one of those family truths I knew to be true.  The story I was told was that my parents went to a place (the details of the place were always vague) where there were many babies to choose from.  When I saw them I immediately reached for them and that was how they knew I was the baby for them. 

I was stunned as a young adult when I read Betty Jean Lifton’s Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience  and learned the story was not uniquely my own, rather it was derived from Valentina Wasson’s book The Chosen Baby which was originally published in 1939.  Adoptive parents were advised to tell their adoptive children Wasson’s story as if it were their own when explaining how they came to be part of their family.  Even the somewhat-snobbish phrases that I was advised to use when talking to my friends about their parents having to take them, but my parents choosing me from a whole bunch of other babies was repeated in Lifton’s book.

The truth was that I had no right to know the name I was giving at birth, what nationality I was, my medical history, what character traits were passed to me from previous generations, or any other information that most of us take for granted.  I grew up knowing there was an unspeakable mystery about the circumstances surrounding my birth, but also knowing it would be wrong for me to admit any curiosity about those circumstances; to do so would betray the parents who had adopted me and rescued me from an abhorrent situation.  I was ashamed at the core of me, not for something I did, but for who I was. I was unwanted at birth and the situation was so terrible that records had to be sealed and kept secret. 

In reality, my story is not nearly so dramatic, but the effect my psyche was the same.  I felt as though I was dropped on the earth accidentally, unloved, and unwanted, and much of the time invisible.  Despite adoptive parents who raised me in a loving home, the shame and sense of deep rejection would remain throughout much of my life.   

Those who have studied the effects on a person who has been adoption under the closed adoption system will tell you that many of them share a common set of characteristics, strikingly similar to those of children of alcoholics, and yet different in that the trauma inflicted upon them has been different.  You will hear descriptions of feelings of abandonment, powerlessness, low self-esteem, shame, rage, depression, numbness.

Many adoptees grow up to be angry adults.  Once I was angry, although I had worked hard at repressing the anger for many years to the detriment of my physical and emotional health. It was only when I finally learned the truth about that I was able to let go of the anger and find healing.

I am in the process of writing my adoption memoir in the hope that it can help someone else.  The more we learn about the hurt that is inflicted upon adopted children by asking them to act as if they are someone they are not and suppress the truth about who they really are, the more we will do things differently in the future.

That is my fervent hope

Posted by: Linda Hoye | May 14, 2010

A Hollow Yearning

I came across the following quote by Alex Haley that seems to speak for adoptees who do not have access to their birth records.

In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage – to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning.  No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness. 

I am thankful that more and more adoptive parents realize the importance of allowing their children to know their heritage and to quell the disquieting loneliness as much as it is possible.

Posted by: Linda Hoye | May 8, 2010

Mother’s Day

In 1959 Mother’s Day was celebrated on May 10.  I was 3 1/2 months old and had been admitted to hospital two days earlier for tests on my kidneys, bladder and stomach due to concerns about celiac disease.  I would remain in hospital for almost a month and, two days after my release, I was placed on probationary adoption with the couple who were to become my Mom and Dad.

I imagine my birth-mother may have shed some tears on that Mother’s Day morning. She was likely also busy with her four-year old son, my brother, and that may have kept her mind occupied though.

I wonder what my adoptive mother was thinking on that morning, too.  Did she know that in a few weeks she would hold me in her arms and celebrate Mother’s Day a little late that year? Or was she letting the day go by silently, with a phone call to her own mom, but ignoring the grief in her heart that another year had gone by without a child to call her own?

I was likely confused and afraid as I cried alone in a hospital crib.  First taken from my birth-mom and handed over to a foster mom, then taken from her and left alone in a sterile hospital environment with no mother’s arms to comfort me, I am convinced that at some level I grieved the losses that I had already endured in my brief life. 

Depending on one’s point of view, Mother’s Day in relation to the subject of adoption can be a day of great joy or a day of deep grief.  I am thankful that it is possible for me to see through the grief to a place on the other side where blessing awaits.

My birth-mom, despite giving up three babies to adoption, raised a fine son on her own.

My mom adopted two daughters and lived long enough to become a grandmother of two.

And that little baby who was alone and afraid in a hospital crib on that Mother’s Day in 1959?  She is a proud mother and grandmother today and blessed abundantly!

Posted by: Linda Hoye | May 2, 2010

Celebrating Change

It seems to me that issues pertaining to adoption have been in the news a lot these days –  from the heartbreaking story about the Russian woman who sent her adopted child back  to Sandra Bullock’s surprise adoption announcement.  As usual, there are stories that break my heart, stories that make me smile, and other stories that leave me shaking my head wondering what were they thinking?

A positive trend that I’m seeing as I read about adoption though, is the focus on truth.  There can come no good out of deception in any circumstance, adoption included, and so I’m thrilled when I read things like a recent post on Judy M. Miller’s The International Mom’s Blog because she respects the ethnicity of her children and, more than that, allows her children the freedom to be who they were meant to be.

There are some who were adopted in a closed adoption like I was, who don’t even know what their ethnic background is, let alone have the opportunity to celebrate who they are.  Some adoptees are angry about the secrecy and the shame it cast over them.  I understand their anger, but I am choosing a different response. Rather than dwelling on what was, I choose to rejoice in what is

We, as a society, have made great strides in the way that we look at adoption in 2010.  We understand more about the effects of adoption on children and we are trying to do a better job of ensuring that they grow up to be emotionally strong and healthy people. 

Those of us who were brought up afraid to ask questions about who we were and where we came from were hurt by the shame that we perceived to be upon us.  As we have grown and found the courage to stand up for ourselves and speak out about the way that we were affected by closed adoption, others have listened. 

Today I celebrate that there are loving parents who have been blessed by adoption, just as I celebrate for those children who are blessed to call those parents “mom” and “dad”.  At the same time I celebrate that we are telling the truth to our children and allowing them the opportunity to celebrate for themselves the beautiful and unique individuals that they are.

I call that progress.

Posted by: Linda Hoye | April 14, 2010

Love Trumps Genetics

As usual I was listening to NPR on the way home tonight and my ears naturally perked up when I heard the “A” word.  Russian Adoption Case Belies Many Happy Adoptions was the title of Eric Weiner’s piece about his precious adopted daughter – his “Buddha Baby” as he called her.  There is no way that this dedicated and loving Dad’s love for his little girl is any stronger or more special than a biological father’s love for his child.  One of my favorite lines was when he said that “love trumps genetics”.  If you didn’t hear his story, I encourage you to pop over and listen.  It will warm your heart and reinforce that adoption is a blessing.

It’s kind of ironic that on this day too, I received news from my daughter about an issue with my granddaughter that is possibly related to DNA passed down from my birth-mother.  It’s nothing life-or-death related, praise God, but it is enough to cause us all concern.  My stomach lurched when I first learned of the issue and second to concern for my granddaughter, the strongest emotion I felt was anger.  In addition to the irrational guilt that I feel for this thing potentially coming through my DNA, anger that I thought I had buried toward my birth-mother surfaced almost immediately.

DNA, heritage, history, all of it doesn’t stand a chance next to the love I have for my granddaughter.

Something resonated when I heard him say it, and now I echo the words of Eric Weiner. 

Love Trumps Genetics.  Every Time.

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