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Posts Tagged ‘adoption’

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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.
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t or fThe messages that are intended aren’t always the messages that are received.  Below I have complied 5 myths followed by the truths and the messages these myths send.

1) MYTH:  Acknowledging race conflicts with the message we as a transracial family want to send to our transracial adoptee.  Race doesn’t matter to us.

TRUTH:  Acknowledging the obvious differences and talking about them helps prove that it doesn’t matter to you.  Ignoring the obvious difference makes the transracial adoptee  question just how much race matters.     To which  some will  conclude race matters too much because no one is willing to tackle it or explain it.  Therefore, race should only be seen and not  heard.  As a child of color, should I too only be seen and not heard?

2)  MYTH:  When our transracial adoptee is ready to talk about race and adoption HE/SHE will bring it up.

TRUTH:   The transracial adoptee will not bring up race or adoption because your silence about these subjects doesn’t give them permission to talk about them.

3)  MYTH:  Talking about a child’s painful past will only cause the pain to grow and multiply.

TRUTH:  Pain operates the opposite of vegetation.   You can’t choke out pain by ignoring it  or starving it of attention.  Pain grows from lack of attention NOT vice versa.

4)  MYTH:  Love is divisible.  If we open up our family to birth parents it will divide our adoptive child’s love in half.

TRUTH:  Honoring, respecting, and loving birthparents teaches the adoptee how to honor, respect and love adoptive parents.  LOVE MULTIPLIES!

5) MYTH:  Learning, studying and researching how I am affected by adoption, as an adoptee, robs me of joy.

TRUTH:  Joy comes from understanding.

Be conscious of the messages you want to send and be proactive to make sure what you are intending is actually what your children are receiving.

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Recently I was contacted through my blog by Bryan Tucker.  Bryan is the director of the documentary film, Closure.  He simply asked if I would be willing to view the doc and do a review.  I had heard about the movie and have been meaning to check it out but just hadn’t had the opportunity.  I agreed to do so and below is more my response to the film than it is a review.  For those that don’t know, Closure is the documentary about a transracial adoptee, Angela Burt-Tucker, who searches for her birth family. For information on how to purchase a copy just click on the link closuredocumentary.com 

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I cried more for Angela’s searching and reunion experience than I did my own.  I sat in my quiet office with the door closed, tears racing down my cheeks, my nose running as if it was late for a train, and I wept.  The connection that I never got with my search was there for hers.  While watching her search I realized that often when you are the searcher, so much energy is expended in the chase.  The focus becomes on the process instead of the product.  I saw that focus in Angela.  She was stoic and strong for most of the movie putting process before product and I saw myself in her.   All throughout the movie I wondered if Angela heard and understood the weight of what her adoptive parents said or if she caught what Bryan, her husband, the director captured in a shot. I realized my need to pause the film for Angela was really my need to pause the film for myself, to understand and realize so much about this adoption journey.  My concern became so much about what Angela was missing because it was what I missed during my process.

Interestingly, the movie called Closure brought me healing and closure.  It gave me the opportunity to mourn the fact that my mother and I never met.  It gave me permission to grieve the loss of a connection I never made.  It allowed me the time to fantasize about meeting my biological father and his family and I needed that.  This was my adoptee response and I enjoyed it and appreciated Angela’s courage in sharing her search.

The adoption trainer in me wanted to also keep pausing the film.  I wanted to point out to the adoptive families how important the search can be to an adoptee. I thought Bryan did an amazing job of verbalizing his journey and growing understanding of the search as he watched his wife walk this path.  I was struck by Bryan’s understanding and his humility to admit at times he didn’t know certain things yet he showed his desire to understand more. I wanted to highlight and underline when Angela’s mother shared that initially she was reluctant about the search but then confessed, “I realized that it wasn’t going to change my status of being her mom if she found her birth mother.” WOW!  I wanted her to say that over and over so the adoptive parents could hear it clearly.  IT DOESN’T CHANGE YOUR STATUS!  As a trainer I would love to create a workshop around this film.  This is a movie ALL adoptive parents and professionals should see to help address the many issues that come with adoption and searching.

I appreciated the humans that showed up behind the scary names of “birth mother and father.”  So much concentration is often directed towards the past sins and mistakes of birth parents that we forget there are people behind those terms.   I appreciated that the portrayal of Angela’s black relatives was real and common and calm and enlightening.  As a person of color, I am sensitive to that and I found them to be engaging, wise, caring, and welcoming.  I was thankful for that.

The transracial adoptee in me had to keep telling myself initially this is not a documentary on transracial adoption.  I think it is important to understand that going in.  This is a documentary on an adoptee’s journey to find her birth family.  Oh and by the way she happens to be a transracial adoptee.    Although race is a big part of life as a transracial adoptee we have other powerful stories that can be told and this is one worth hearing.

Towards the end of the movie…it happened.  I saw Angela crying and I was relieved.  Finally, the product was trumping the process and that made me smile.

The wonderful thing is that through our experiences others learn and grow and identify.  So often I am the one sharing experiences so others can grow.  Closure allowed me an hour and 16 minutes to grow and learn and identify. The movie showed the pain, the fear, the ups, the downs, the expected and the unexpected and it showed everything that searching is. It was through Angela’s story that I understood my own story, my adoptive parent’s story, and my birth parent’s story on a deeper level which created some closure for me.

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Inside my plastic mailbox in front of my house, with the little red flag sticking up, is my application for a Confidential Intermediary.  Since I was born in Michigan, and my birth mother never signed a form to allow me access to my information, it is assumed she didn’t want me to be able to look into my own file.  It is important to point out that she never signed anything period but the courts have decided that the absence of any form translates into no access.  This ruling has already denied me the right to meet my birth mother.  When I located her, on my own, I was 6 years too late.  She died before I could find her.

She also died without ever telling who my father was so my only option at this point is to play by the rules of the Michigan court system.

The rules are simple.  I first must request a confidential intermediary via the application that sits in my mailbox waiting to be picked up.  The filing fee is $20.00.  Once  the Wayne County clerk gets my application they will then assign my case to a confidential intermediary(CI).  The CI will then contact me and this person has been authorized by the courts to charge me $250.00 plus expenses.  Once I send the CI my check, the CI will then go in to my file, get the name of my birth father and their search begins.  The CI will locate and contact my birth father.   If my birth father says he isn’t interested the process is over.  I lose my $250.00 and I get nothing in return.  The identity of my father remains a secret and the right that every other US Citizens has; to know their birth parents, is denied.

The frustration that fuels that last sentence is indescribable.  The fact that I have been denied what so many take for granted makes me want to march up to Lansing Michigan and sit on the capital steps and scream until I am heard.  The futility of doing that stops my march before it begins.

If my birth father is interested in meeting me then he gets my contact information and I get his.  In this process, I have to be willing to go all-in.  I have to push my poker chips to the center of the table and surrender to the process.  There is no option to just get the information on my birth father.   This is a decision I struggle with off and on.  There are days when I want to meet, and there are days when I don’t.  But there is never a day I don’t want to know his name and  know something about him.  Taking the leap to know him is terrifying.

The last scenario I am faced with is that my birth father may be deceased.  If this is the case, then I am awarded his name and from that I can order  his death certificate which can lead me to an obituary where I can find additional information  regarding other  relatives.  The freedom in doing that at my own pace is attractive.  The fact that I gain from such a great loss is unjust.

As each adoptee searches, there is the chance that we could be rejected again and the thought of that compresses my mind in my skull.  I have weighed this process and the many outcomes over and over and I am sick of being held captive by it.  My hope is that any answer will bring some relief.  Playing the what-if-game has gotten to be torturous.

It is time to go all-in.

Photo credit

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Don’t for get about the Webinar on April 28, 2011–THE TRANSCULTURAL TEN.  See link at the top of the column on the right.

*Feel free to reprint this post on your own blog. I’ll be happy to e-mail you the HTML, so all you have to do is copy & paste, and the formatting will remain intact. If you reprint it, please include the following byline:

Kevin D. Hofmann, author of  Growing Up Black In White, Consultant in Adoption, and creator of  MY MIND ON PAPER;  a blog written to adoptive parents from an adoptee’s point of view.

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Sitting at the table in McDonalds enjoying the company of a new female friend, I looked out the window and saw my girlfriend’s car drive by.  Of all the McDonalds in Detroit she had to pick the one I chose to take my date.

The glare she gave me stopped me cold as she slowly rolled  by.  It felt like time was moving through a thick gel.  I froze and braced myself for the inevitable gun fire that was going to come screaming through the large widow I sat in front of.  Instead it was a cold emotionless stare that only made it feel  like I had been riddled with .30 caliber bullets.

I was a junior in high school and after I was spotted in the McDonalds, my relationship with my girlfriend was over.   This was my third strike and if she had the power to put me in jail for life or kill me she would have closed my cell door or pushed the toxic liquid through my veins herself. 

The next several months I spent begging and pleading to her delight–with no success at the expense of any humility I had.  Looking back on that time of dating in my teen-age years, it seemed like I spent a lot of time begging.  In all honesty,  this relationship and many others were the mirror images of Romeo and Juliet.  Our paths were not crossed in the heavens.

My craving for attention to combat my feelings of rejection manifested in some horrible relationship choices.  Often I chased the next woman who smiled in my direction and our compatibility never  crossed my mind.  If she was interested in me, I inhaled the attention she was giving.

My mother I’m sure was convinced I was unbalanced during those acne-filled years.  When I broke up with a girl it was as if the world stopped spinning.  The extent to which I mourned the loss of those relationships was four stories above over the top.  The rejection I felt from the failure of a teenage relationship just multiplied my need for attention.  Trying to cling to a broken relationship after it was burned to ash was what I did.  The great need to be accepted and not rejected kept me trying over and over to revive relationships that passed the morgue long ago.

One of the great luxuries of writing this blog is the ability to reflect back on the things I did long ago and try to decipher why I did the things I did.   It amazes me just how much the decisions I made  and  my reactions to things were so deeply rooted in being adopted.

One other remnant of being adopted is the feeling of unworthiness that I can’t shake.  This presents itself over and over in relationships as well.  My wife can attest to the fact that I tried over and over to dissemble our relationship.  Once I found a great thing,  I did what I could to cause it to implode.  Fortunately,  my wife calmly held on and wouldn’t let go.

The residuals that come with adoption are often ignored or dismissed.  In talking to birth parents and adoptees we all suffer from that split much more than we are told we should and relationships after relationship are often sacrificed as we wade through the waters of mistrust, self-destruction, and rejection.

If you then mix in transracial adoption another layer gets mixed in.  The potential then exists that a TRA becomes so starved for attention from others that look like them that we cling to the first person of color who shows us any kind of attention.   The need to be accepted, validated, and desired by someone with comparable melanin in their skin overrides everything in us that tells us this person should be our last choice.

I feel a collective panel of parents now screaming, “So what do we do to prevent this.”

My answer is simple.

It is the same advice that should have been given to the Captain of the Titanic.  If there is a potential for something to be lurking underneath the surface, strain you eyes to watch for it.  You become hyper-vigilant and you man the bow looking for the potential hazards that may come with relationships.  While you’re standing on the bow you fed the child with words and actions that build them up in an attempt to counteract the blast that can be left in the wake of the separation between mother and child.

Photo credit

 

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The webinar that I am having on 4-28-11(see link on the right at the top) is filling up fast.  Space is limited!  Sign up and be a part of the live webinar.

Don’t forget to follow me on twitter, friend me on Facebook, and “like” my fan page(see links to the right for easy access.)

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Sitting alone in my living room in my favorite chair, alone in the house I cried.  Watching the documentary, Wo Ai Ni,(I Love You) Mommy on PBS a deep sadness shrouded me.

This is a documentary on transracial adoption and it follows the Sadowsky family who adopts an 8 year old girl from China.  The film maker Stephania Wang-Breal, follows  Mrs. Sadowsky as she travels to China to meet and bring back their new daughter to the United States.

In an interview on the PBS website,(http://video.pbs.org/video/1579183817/),  Donna Sadowsky, the mother of the Sadowsky family states, “We documented this trip to show the cultural assimilation that happens when children come in to the United States with a foreign language or coming from other countries.”

To Mrs. Sadowsky even after seeing the documentary she is very excited and proud of how she is portrayed and sees the films as a great way to show others that it is possible to adopt older children internationally and that the adoption of older children can be successful.

I wonder if Mrs. Sadowsky and I saw the same film.

What gave her so much joy made so very sad.

At their initial meeting,  the 8 year old adoptee, instantaneously loses her Chinese name, Sui Yong, which is replaced with Faith Sadowsky and the new Faith seems overwhelmed and in shock.  From this point on frame by frame the painful process of stripping everything Chinese from this darling 8 year begins.

Immediately, Mrs. Sadowsky introduces flash cards to help teach Faith her new language.  Time after time, Faith is exhausted but Mrs. Sadowsky keeps pushing her to learn more English.  It is evident that Faith is expected to become an English speaking American and the thought of the Sadowsky’s learning any Chinese or doing anything to accommodate Faith’s culture never blips on the Sadowsky radar. They do enroll Faith in Chinese classes but they don’t seem to stop the melting of Chinese from Faith’s mind.

Early on over and over Faith is made responsible when there is a breakdown in communication.   In Mrs. Sadowsky’s mind, it is Faith who is choosing not to communicate in her new language purposely refusing to speak.

The misunderstandings are often cleared up with the help of the film maker, who often acts as a translator.

Later in the film, as Mrs. Sadowsky, is watching Faith at her swim lessons, she retells another joyful moment.  She explains that now after Faith has been in the United States for 8 months, her Chinese is disappearing and the frequent phone calls to China to talk to her foster family are less frequent.  It is becoming more and more difficult for Faith to speak Chinese with her foster family and in frustration, after a recent phone call with her foster family, to her mother’s sinister delight, Faith says she doesn’t like the Foster family anymore.

One more layer gone.

Walking away from this film, I felt bad for Mrs. Sadowsky because I was convinced that once she saw the completed film she would easily see the same film I did and she would realize how sad it was to watch the “assimilation” of her daughter.  What was even sadder was watching the post film interview of Mrs. Sadowsky.  The fact that she missed the obvious message and slant by the film maker was sad.

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For those that missed it, the video can be viewed on the PBS site. Just click on  this link, Wo Ai Ni Mommy

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Trips to the grocery store were always an event in the Hofmann household.  Usually, Dad would be working so Mom would load up us four kids all under the age of eight  in to the dark blue station wagon and we would trek to the local A&P grocery store.

The one order we would get before we walked through those magic glass doors that opened by themselves was simple; “Make sure you stay with me,” Mom would say.  Then the adventure began.  Mom would whisk up and down the isles checking off items one by one on a list written on the back of an envelope or on a scrape piece of paper. Her mission was to save as much money as possible and our mission, job and responsibility was to keep up with her.

The phase, “No child gets left behind,” meant nothing to Mom.  If you were slow, you got left behind.  If you got distracted by the toy aisle that sat next to the cereal aisle, you got left behind.

I can remember several times seeing and feeling my mother right beside me and then I would look away for a fraction of a quarter of a second and she would dissolve and be gone.  If I was lucky, I would catch a blur of her whipping around the corner of an aisle, but usually she would just be gone.  I would stand in the middle of the aisle in dead silence as the shelves of groceries seemed to grow taller as I shrank.  I would frantically whip my head around but I knew it was no use.  When she was gone, she was gone.That feeling of being lost, cut off from the world in the A&P was terrifying.  I felt alone in a store full of people.

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Several weeks ago, at 42 years old, for the first time in my life I sat down with a group of transracial adoptees.  For three days, I got to move in an environment with adults who lived their lives like I have lived mine; as a minority in their own family.

I was excited to hear their stories, their experiences, and their interpretations of life as transracial adoptees.  Over this 72 hour period, I heard, saw, felt, and experienced the pain, hurt and anger of several transracial adoptees.  There were meetings we had where I just wanted to run out and away from the confusion, the tears, the shouts, and the cussing.

At night, I would lie awake wondering if I missed it.  Anxiety would seize me and descend on me like a blanket.  Was I in denial?  Was I ignoring the powerful feelings that so many shared during the day?  Why was my experience so different?

About 48 hours in to this new world the answer to my last question was clear.  My experience was different because of two reasons; my faith and my experience.

I know the mention of two of those four words has caused several to turn me off; my faith.  My Christian faith promises a peace that passes all understanding.  I have that peace which comes to me through the power of my faith not through my denial.

The other difference was my experience.  My experience of growing up in a white family but always in touch with people who look like me, I am finding out is unique.  Many transracial adoptees are adopted by white families, live in white environments and never have those vital connections I had.

Often this lack of connection is compounded by the fact that race is never talked about in the home.  This creates what someone called racial isolation.  That term hit me across the forehead when I took the time to really hear it.

To live in racial isolation where you are treated differently at school, at church, on the playground, in your neighbor, and then come home where you can’t or don’t discuss it would be a torturous existence.  Growing up like that, in my opinion, would be a living hell.

Over those 72 hours, I got to see and understand a side of transracial adoption that I didn’t experience but now I understand better.  To survive such a life would not be easy and the hurt, pain, and anger that would throb in my chest would be very difficult to contain.

The alone and isolated feeling I felt in the A&P felt like it lasted an eternity but in reality lasted one to two minutes.  Once I ran down the aisle and checked the aisles to the left or right, I would find my Mom, pushing the shopping cart, with one to three of my brothers and sister.  My siblings were not immune to our mother’s disappearing act so rarely were we all together at one time in the A&P.   Once connected I would fall back in line behind the shopping cart that was quickly being filled and I was no longer alone.

Living life surrounded by people but still isolated and alone will change a child and the road to finding themselves as they grow will not be as easy as running to the next aisle.

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Check out my electronic press kit video and pass the link on to anyone you feel might be interested.

Click below to watch the video.

Kevin D. Hofmann(epk)

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