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One thing I love about doing this blog is that every now and then someone will reach out to me for help.  A few Saturdays ago a brave young man reached out to me and asked if I would help get his story out there.  He is an adoptee who was searching for his biological father.  He is also a film maker and shared that he decided to show up on his bio dad’s door with camera in hand.

When I read this I got instantly nervous for him!  He shared the video with me and I was blown away.  Not only is he brave he is very talented.  Below is his story with the link to his video.  Please share and spread around.  This is a great story.

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Elijah Thomas

I met my birth father back in September.

I think I’ve always been curious about him, who he was, his side of the story, etc.However, from what I understood, he didn’t want any contact with me. But, I didn’t feel it was right for someone to have a child and just get to ignore that fact for the rest of their life. I think children of closed adoption often suffer in silence about these things. Our adoption is never totally “closed” in our hearts.

We grow up loving our adoptive parents and in the process this curiosity can eat at us and even make us feel guilty for wanting to understand the big picture. That’s not right at all. It’s extremely important for adoptive families to be encouraging and sensitive to this desire. We (adopted children) don’t want to hurt ANYONE. Families will ultimately grow closer as they communicate, and implement this level of trust.

After meeting John, (my birth-father), I feel more apart of my family (my adoptive family) than ever.I see the big picture, and it’s had a lasting effect on me. I feel like this is both an end and a new beginning for me. It marks the end of a lot of suffering, self doubt, depression, and anger. Now that my adoption is open, I can finally say that it’s “closed” once and for all in my heart.

I have thus begun to feel very lucky. Life feels new and different now that I no longer feel like some mistake that was made 24 years ago.

Me and John haven’t spoken much at all since. But there are no hard feelings. We wish each other the best. He was very kind in allowing us to film and interview him.

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SPECIAL NOTE:  The second edition of GROWING UP BLACK IN WHITE is now available
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cover sampleSeven years ago I released the first edition to my memoir, Growing Up Black In White.  I was really new to the adoption community and was excited to get my story out in the world.  I choose to self-publish and rushed to get it out.  It was a big accomplishment for me but I still couldn’t escape what I call my adoption residue;  things that come with adoption that adoptees can’t easily wash off.

One of my biggest pieces of adoption residue is my amazing ability to self-sabotage.  On one hand I had great work being put out but on the other hand I rushed it.  The result was I put out a product that wasn’t edited properly and for the last 7 years I was ashamed of the product.  I was hoping people wouldn’t notice.  Consumed by what the book lacked I wasn’t unable to enjoy what it meant to accomplish such a goal.

Although the book was flawed it allowed me to help many families and touch many lives.  I have been all over the United States talking about the impact of adoption and transracial adoption.  What inspired me was that families wanted to know more to help their children. In talking with them it become very clear many wanted to raise wonderful children of color but they just didn’t know how.  Many wanted step by step instructions on how to be better parents.  Two years ago I started writing down clear instructions and strategies for parents to help them in raising confident children of color and that is when the idea of the second edition of the book was born.

So what is different about the second edition?

The cover is much improved.  It has a picture of me on it when I was about five years old.  The things I would tell that five year old!  The picture inspires me to get this story out to help other children and families who are living a similar life.

I added a chapter about racism that I experienced and I I processed what that meant.  I added more about my college experience and the struggles I had there trying to fit in.

More importantly, the first edition was simply our story.  The second edition shares our story AND it includes 40 pages of instructions for parents raising children of color; things that parents can do to raise confident healthy families.  In the second edition I cover:

Creating a balance in your multicultural family for both bio and adoptive children

Addressing family members who may not agree with your decision to have a multicultural family

Helping your children own their story and protecting their story

Search and reunion

Adoption residue

Racial isolation

Racial identity

Talking about race with your child

Honoring birth parents

Code switching

Microaggressions and “othering”

Advocating for your child of color in school

Instructions on  what to do when pulled over by the police

In each topic I give action items for parents to do to address each issue; clear step by step instructions families can do to address what comes with raising children of color.

Additionally, the book has been professionally edited; I can hold my head up when talking about this book now.  I am so proud of what this book can mean for so many.  We are marketing the book to the adoption community first but will also look to larger audiences to share this story and help facilitate conversations on race in America.  My wife will be happy.  She has been telling me for years this story is bigger than just the adoption community.  I’m so excited to see where this will lead.

The book is due out in early April and will be available on Amazon as well as my NEW website. Right now, I’m going to just sit with the book and enjoy this accomplishment.  My adoption residue makes that hard but I will push through and take the time to understand this is something to be proud of.   Thank you all for your support and I hope you will help me get this book in to as many hands as possible.

One of the biggest points I try  to drive home when I speak to TRA families is the importance of having consistent mirrors in their children’s lives.  If you are raising children of color it is vital that they see themselves in peers, mentors, professionals etc.  The presence of someone who looks like you tells you that you and people like you are accepted and valued.  For an adoptee especially that means so much.

This year I will be 50!  Wow that hurt to type that! Over the last week I have watched 3 very important pieces that feed my desire to have mirrors….at 50!

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I watched the movie Moonlight first and for the first 20-30 minutes I was glued to the screen.  The actor, who played Juan, Mahershala Ali, is amazing, worthy of the Oscar he won for this role.  It was touching to see such a powerful presence be so kind and attentive to a child who needed some positivity in his life.  Deep down in a small spot tucked behind my pancreas there was a need in me to see someone like me portrayed in this manner on the big screen.   Although I wasn’t a huge fan of Juan’s occupation(we are more than that!) I enjoyed the space he filled in the movie and for me.  Juan showed me strong Black me exist and have value.

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I watched the movie Lion next, a true story about a transracial adoptee (Saroo, played by Deve Patel) and his quests to find his birth mother.  For obvious reason this story spoke to me and by the end my chest was heaving and tears were running down my shirt into my lap.  The fact that transracial adoptees and our stories are being told means so much to me.  Again on the big screen I have mirrored for me that other transracial adoptees not only exist but yearn for the things I have yearned for.  Saroo showed me my experience matters.

 

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Lastly,  I tune in every week to watch the TV series, This Is Us.  Every week my heart responds,  THIS WAS US!  To have showcased the life of a transracial family feeds so much in me.  Every week I am a sobbing mess because the show speaks to my life’s experience.  On top of that the fact that the show is so popular and has touched so many outside of the adoption community shows the cross over appeal of such a life and gives normalcy to what has always been viewed as abnormal.  This Is Us shows me my family’s life matters.

Today’s transracial families have no excuse.    Our presence is being shown and validated and should be shared with your children so they see themselves reflected in today’s world.  I thank Mahershala, Deve, and This Is Us for filling that spot behind my pancreas.

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Five years ago Sunday Trayvon Martin was stalked and killed in his own neighborhood.  Trayvon’s death began a shift in social justice and the powerful movements like Black Lives Matter began.  Since Trayvon’s death we no longer wait for several days to hear about an unjust killing of one of our youth.  This push of social media notifies us immediately and then action begins to let everyone know of the injustice.  Although, these types of killings have been happening since Columbus rediscovered this land, Social media lets the world know what communities of color have known for centuries.Unfortunately, many have died similar to Trayvon in the past half decade and every killing is made up of the same anatomy.

It begins with a killing.  An injustice is carried out and the life of a person of color is extinguished.  The word of the injustice spreads like a high contagious disease across social media.  The news media picks up the story and we hear about the perpetrators and the victim and immediately their roles are reversed.  The reports begin to flood in about the criminal background of the victim.  We hear about their past drug charges or their history and schedule of child support payments and how much they have or have not paid.  We hear about driving infractions, children they may have, how many and with how many partners.  The victim becomes the accused and through these reports subtly a story is crafted to justify why they were killed.

If there is video of the incident those responsible for the killing hold press conferences and they tell us over and over what we are seeing isn’t what we are seeing.  We are told there is more video that we can’t see or that we don’t know what occurred prior to the video.  Sometimes the perpetrator is put on paid administration leave while the incident is investigated.  During the press conference we NEVER hear remorse or an apology, or we never hear anyone taking responsibility.  The investigation begins with explanations as to why the victim may be the perpetrators which give us no reassurance that justice will be found.  Instead it appears the investigation will concentrate on how to justify a killing instead of searching for the truth.

Soon after the protests are organized and begin.  Intersections are blocked; police suit up in riot gear and Black Lives Matter demands justice.  A large majority of marches are peaceful and respectful but there is always someone involved NOT associated with BLM who start to throw things or burn property and all eyes draw to the one march that turned violent.  Then it is assumed BLM is the one calling for the violence and many begin to associate violence with BLM which is the opposite of reality.

So the victim becomes the guilty and the peaceful become the violent and out of tragedy a vat of salt is poured into an ugly wound and no peace, no resolution and no justice ever come.

So I wait for the next incident to occur and know that the above script will be followed to the letter.  I’m prepared to scream at the TV when the press conference begins and tell them to start with an apology; show some remorse.  I want to hand them a script that reads, “Yesterday an unfortunate incident occurred and as a result a young life was taken.  We are still investigating what all happened but we want to let you know that whatever happened we regret that  a life was taken in an interaction that involved one of our employees.  We also want to say how sorry we are that the ______ family has lost a member of their family long before they should have.  Once we know more we will let you know and our goal is to get to the truth of what happened.”

When the protests start I am prepared to scream at those not associated with BLM to stay at home.  I want hand them a note that reads, “The protest is designed to draw attention to this tragic situation.  To honor the victim we will assemble peacefully.  If you can’t commit to that we need you to stay at home.”

When the investigation begins my screaming continues.  “Please follow the evidence and search for the truth.  Don’t be distracted by industry loyalty.  Please remember there was a life that was taken at the hands of your employee.”

My hope is if my screaming is heard we stop operating in a bizarre world where everything gets turned upside down and backwards and with that comes peace, resolution and justice.

 

 

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Guest Blogger:  Adrienne Carwheel

Typically when a REALLY good TV show is on, social media tells the tale. Random running commentary complete with people screaming at the screen (via text) accompanies some of the best shows out there. 

I join in the revelry, identifying with characters, criticizing their decisions, relationships, and posting my frustration with fellow watchers-except when watching the bane of my existence, yet absolute private addiction:

This.Is.Us

I have to prepare myself and not just because it is really emotional screen time, but because as someone who identifies as an adult adoptee, I need a minute to process all of what I see and hear…alone.

Randall, oh sweet Randall. You move me. The way you have to face race, identity and adoption is just beautiful. The mark of a really good show is when you can picture yourself living through the characters, what they think, and how they feel. 

Randall, like me, as an adult adoptee, made a conscious decision to research his origin. Meeting William, his birth father, was an integral part of his journey, and the precious time they spent before his death was a gift that both of them were able to hide in their hearts.

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I reunited with my one section of my birth family in 1997 and the other in 2015. It was a painstaking, yet fulfilling quest of fact-finding. I saw my same nose, my same chin, my same mannerisms and idiosyncratic behaviors that no adoption could ever sever.

I believe that there are some lessons from Randall that we can learn in the area of adoptee “self-care” as it were. It was obvious that he dealt with extreme anxiety and although successful, and in a loving family, the weight of the world, at times, proved to be too much. 

1. Watch the show and process with people who get you.

If your people don’t understand why a TV show could have you weeping in a corner, those are not your people. Whether you are an adoptee reunited, in a closed adoption, or even a parent of an adoptee, being presented with complicated issues where art imitates life, takes some self care. 

I don’t envy my husband since he is married to an adoptee. Some of us see the world through such a different lens, holding on, thinking and feeling–longing. My husband represents what Beth is to Randall in the show.

2. Don’t be ashamed of your story

Television sometimes can portray the perfect nuclear family, however, shows that portray the messiness of life are the best. In life, our stories don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. Adoption begins with loss, but even if reunion doesn’t occur, you still have a path and all is not lost.

3. It is part of who you are, but not all of who you are

I struggled for a long time with the loyalty that comes with longing for birth family, yet being implanted in a loving adoptive family. My birth family gave my life, but my adoptive family taught me how to live it.

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Adrienne Carwheel was adopted at birth is now an adoptive mom of two young girls. Adrienne and her husband are currently in open adoptions with the birth families of their children. She has also served in the following roles:

Connect a Kid Mentor

Guest speaker for Miriam’s Heart

Administrator for transracial adoption group
Book Club Leader for African American Adoptive Mothers
Adrienne is also a good friend, someone I have had the pleasure of working with in the past a few times.  She always brings a peacefulness and calm to everything we do together.    Adrienne, Dawn(the  birth mother from the last post),  and I share the stage together in what we call The TRIAD TALKS.  We are 3 adoptees that represent each branch of the triad.  It is a powerful 90 minutes of each of us sharing and helping others, as well as each other,  understand the different roles involved in adoption.  It is a healing 90 minutes.

Below is Dawn’s story posted originally  on March 1, 2010.

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I am a birth mother who placed my daughter up for adoption 15 years ago.  I was in high school (the summer of 12th grade year 1993) when I started dating the birth father.  I actually grew up with him and to be honest he was my very first real relationship.  I was a cheerleader and track star and her dad was a wonderful basketball and football player. I was 17 when I became pregnant and the birth father was 16 years old.  I was raised by my grandmother (paternal side) in Maryland, she has a very strong personality, so when I found out I was pregnant I was extremely afraid! I hid the pregnancy for 6 months. Only the father knew…I had graduated from high school and entered into a community college in our area. I knew I had to tell her so I finally went to my grandmother with the help/support of my twin sister and told her I was pregnant. She was angry and very quiet. I knew what she was thinking: we were raised in the church so embarrassment was written all over her face. The next day she told me I was going to have an abortion. She didn’t talk to me except to tell me the steps of this process.  She made the appointment, and the doctor examined me and told me that I was too far along. My grandmother called me a liar, then told me that I would have to go and live with my father in California and have my baby there and completely shut down after that. We got home I called my daddy and it took my grandmother less than a week for me to be on a plane headed to California. I had to drop out of college, say goodbye to my sister (not just my sister, but my TWIN), my boyfriend, and lie to my friends and family as to why I was leaving so quickly…I told them that I was going to bring my aunt back home to Maryland.  My Aunt had recently been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  No one took me to the airport I had to take a taxi alone. I left October 6, 1994.  My father welcomed me with loving arms and when I saw him I broke down.  Looking back on it I know my grandmother was only doing what she thought was right.  She was trying to protect me from the judgement of others.

When I finally got settled, my dad called my grandmother and I was told to place my child up for adoption. My dad spoke to a close friend at work and she recommended a wonderful adoption agency out of Los Angeles. With my initial meeting with my social worker Mrs. Bowman she was sweet, gentle, she listened to me intently and was very honest with me. A few days later my dad surprised me with the news that my sister was coming to California to share in our birthday (November). That was the happiest day I felt in my life.  My goodness I missed her so much! In the first week of December I had a meeting with the potential adoptive parent’s attorney.  He was also very honest, and I believed he cared. We had two potential families.  They were high profile families so I immediately understood that this would be a closed adoption. I was given non-identifying information on the parents and had to make a decision. Even though I wasn’t given identifying information I knew exactly who the couple was that I choose to place my child with.  After the meeting I came home and got in the shower and cried like baby…I went into labor December 20th, but didn’t give birth to my baby girl until the next morning.  I had a c-section so I was able to stay in the hospital for three days.  After giving birth she was placed in an incubator, she was stressed because they broke my water and the doctor  waited too long to decide to give me a c-section. I was bombarded with so much pain while I sat there in that hospital bed. My social worker came to see me and go over my next steps.  My daughter was able to leave on day 2 and I asked her to ask the family if she could stay one more day with me.  They complied and my daddy even called my grandmother and asked “mom are you sure we’re doing the right thing?”, she told him that I could stay there and raise her 😦 . On the last day my dad and I went down to the nursery and held her for as long as I could before I was discharged.  I had some request before I left that hospital.  I needed a picture of her (my social worker had taken a Polaroid picture of her since the photographer was out sick-of course!), her hospital band, her vital stats after birth, her little foot prints on a birth certification card from the hospital, and the tag that was on her bassinet.

I did not want her to go into foster care, even though it would have only been for the weekend, I just really wanted the family to share Christmas Day.  I left the hospital December 23rd and went directly to the agency to sign the papers.  After we got home I held the items that I got from the hospital and laid down and cried for hours.  I tried to make myself believe that I was doing the right thing, or saying this is what is best for her, but I was just angry.  I had my final appointment to remove the stitches ( I know it is weird but I kept those as well) and got the okay to go back home.

The lie that I told about why I was coming to California ended up not being a lie at all.  In addition to dealing with my adoption, I was preparing for my aunt to actually come back home with me and she did.  3 1/2 months later my aunt and I were on a plane headed back to Maryland, but life had changed drastically! The relationship with my grandmother was quiet and no one talked about anything.  I was so excited to be home, I put on a front during the day and cried myself to sleep at night. In June I received a professional picture of my daughter (4 months old) and with that a letter from the my social worker saying that she couldn’t handle the business any longer after my case and decided to leave the company, she too was pregnant during the same time.

I tried going back to college but I couldn’t focus on school or anything else for that matter.  I got a job and tried to move on with my life.  My relationship with her father was up and down for the next few years.  We celebrated her birthdays together and he wasn’t the stay in a relationship type of guy, but I tried to make it work.  We had another child a son four years later and 4 months after giving birth to him I moved back with my grandmother and never looked back (in that relationship).

I am thankful for my relationship with Christ.  He keeps me at peace and those days that I am feeling low he picks me up and tells me how much he loves me.  I know for a fact that if it had not been for him I would not be where I am today.  He created a wonderful man of God I married who supports me and is a great father to my son.  My grandmother and I reconciled and she is still a big part of my life.

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7 Years ago Dawn and I met through Facebook.  I was just starting my blog and I wanted to hear from  a birth/first mother about what her experience was like with adoption.  7 years ago,  I was trying to find my birth mother and Dawn was still grieving the loss of her daughter.  She wrote this blog and we stayed in touch and we shared with each other from our experiences as an adoptee and birth/first mother.   She helped me to understand what my mother went through and I tried to help her see what life as an adoptee is like and what her daughter may be feeling.

3 years after Dawn and I met the daughter that she  gave up turned 18 and reentered Dawn’s life.  When I first met Dawn she was hyper-vigilant about protecting the privacy of the adoptive parents and it wasn’t my place to ask.  What wasn’t shared in the story above was that Dawn choose to place her daughter Elisa with Magic and Cookie Johnson.  What wasn’t shared was that Dawn watched her daughter grow up through the internet and ached to be a part of her life.  When Elisa turned 18 the call that Dawn waited for for 18 years finally came and she got to hug her baby girl again.

Last year,  Elisa and Magic & Cookie’s son,EJ stared in the reality show, EJNYC.  A pseudo-reunion was created for the show and in the 3 minute video it is easy to see the love that never went away(see the link below).  As an adoptee who never met their birth/first mother that reunion caught on tape has given me some peace knowing that giving up a child to adopti0n isn’t as easy as I thought…and it shouldn’t be.

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GOT QUESTIONS:  Here’s an interview I did with Dawn which answers some questions:  DAWN”S INTERVIEW

Don’t forget, follow me on twitter @k8967. 

Note:  blog is temporarily @ http://www.mymindonpaper.wordpress.com while I update my regular site.

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Elisa Johnson & Dawn Smith

Dawn & Elisa’s Reunion

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Elisa, Dawn, & David(Dawn’s son and Elisa’s bro.)

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Jeremy(Dawn’s Husband), Autumn, Michelle, David, & Dawn

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Elisa singing while Grandma Viv plays the piano–full circle moment

Guest Blogger

Part of my passion in the adoption community is to celebrate the voices of all impacted by adoption.  So I decided to reach out to others in the community to do guest blogs on my site.  Here is the first of many.

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Bio: My name is Aerial and I am an adoptee, blogger, aspiring photographer, musician, and writer. I have been in post reunion with my birth family for seven years. I have seven siblings: two older biological half sisters, one older biological whole sister, my little sister I was raised with, one older biological half brother, my twin brother I was raised with and my youngest brother I was raised with…Big sister of four and the baby sister of six ( birth mother and birth father’s side). I have been blogging for the last five years and I am in the process of writing a book. Here is a post from my blog The Eyes of An Adoptee.

Loss, Pain & Grief…. Understanding the Adopted Person

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Some adoptees do not struggle with these feelings. I am not assuming every adoptee does; just putting that out there.

I was talking with another adoptee last night. I follow her blog and I think her story is so interesting. We were talking last night about grief.   She asked me “why do we grieve?”   I thought about this question.  Here is what I understand:

I think we as adoptees grieve because we understand that the relationships we are searching for are not the ones we initially had. For example… the relationship I have with my birth mother now is not the relationship I would of have with her if I wasn’t adopted. It would have been totally different and that initial relationship is what I yearned for. When I realized I couldn’t have that relationship I had to grieve that lost.  However in the midst of grieving for what I couldn’t have… I had to build some type of relationship with her to keep her in some way, shape or form in my life. That’s where pain sets in. The pain of having her in my life in a way that I didn’t expect and wasn’t necessarily ready for and the pain of her not being able to be my mother. So the loss sets in. I lost a mother.

This is traumatizing and a lot of people inside and outside the realm of adoption don’t believe, recognize or understand.   I lost a mother in the worst way possible.   Losing a parent to death is tragic.   I almost lost both of my parents but I thank God every day that they are still here. That grief is sometimes unbearable but people get through it and they cope.

I lost my birth mother but I see her from time to time.   I can’t have her.   The woman that held me ( and my twin brother) for nine months and gave birth to me, named me, took me home, and had me in her care up until I was four months old is out there walking around Walmart or watching TV and I can’t be her daughter.   I can’t call her everyday. I can’t give her a hug everyday. I   can’t do the things daughters do with mothers because that title was taken away from her.   That title was stripped from me.   I am someone else’s daughter.  The essence is gone.

Pain, loss and grief…. most adopted people know too well. These feelings are the most hidden feelings.  I don’t share these feelings because it’s easier than going through the emotions and trying to explain it to people over and over to no prevail.  It’s like reliving you reality when you are already drowning in it.