May can be the cruelest month, too!
Dear Friends,read more...
While we hope you all had a happy (or at least satisfactory) Mother's Day this month, we also recognize that for many of us who have lost (or even gained) children through/to adoption, Mother's Day can be a difficult day. We hope to brighten your day with some positive and helpful stories about and by women who are birthmothers, adoptive mothers and adoptees, and who understand the love and joy as well as as the anguish and trauma of adoption.
We invite you to read these stories with an open heart and try to find the love and solace that exists in them. We are all entwined, whether we like it or not, in this business of family and motherhood, and we need each other to make it make sense in our lives. Or sometimes, we need each other just to be able to cope and to survive.
We offer two stories plus an interview with Liz Latty, who adds tremendous insight into the condition of being adopted as well as what it's like to be an adoptive parent and birthmother.
In this issue ...
In this issue we are proud to bring you
- TWO articles by Adoptee Activist Liz Latty
- An interview with Adoptee Activist Liz Latty.
- We also include:
- Several (Other) Mother's Day poems,
- A review of the play "Lord of the Underworld's Home for Unwed Mothers"
- News about the CUB Retreat 2017,
- News about the CUB Retreat Scholarship Program.
- Two Donation Opportunities
This Issue is dedicated to the Mothers, Grandmothers, Godmothers, Stepmothers, Fathers acting as Mothers, Mothers-to-be, Mothers we love, Mothers we miss, and Mothers whose children are in their hearts. To Mothers by birth and Mothers by love.
Helping out a CUB friend ...
Love for Deja and Jenna
As many of you know, we recently lost a member of our community to a tragic and untimely death. If you wish to donate and support Mimi (the grandmother) then your donation will help raise funds for Deja (age 21) and Jenna (age 13) who recently lost their mother under very tragic circumstances. The sudden and unexpected loss of their mother has left the girls with a lot of expenses, including the cost of the memorial services, moving and storage, repayment of debts, counseling, legal fees, health insurance, medical expenses, and living expenses.
We so appreciate anything you are able to contribute to help these brave and lovely young women as they cope with their loss and all their many new responsibilities. All funds will be given directly to Deja and Jenna.
Donate here now to help this campaign:
Thank you from CUB.
An Interview with Adoptee Activist Liz Latty
An Interview with Liz Latty, Author and Adoption Reform Activist
Q: CUB: What first inspired you to write about your adoption experience?
A: Liz Latty: I was five years old and my kindergarten teacher asked us to write stories about anything we wanted, anything we could imagine. I had already lived a number of years, very conscious of my grief and even more conscious that there wasn't any room for those feelings in the family and world in which I lived. I have vivid memories of being 3 and 4 years old, hiding in my bedroom under the covers on my birthday and crying for my mom. Wondering if she was coming back and why she had left me. But I kept quiet so I wouldn't hurt anyone or make anyone mad at me. I'm not sure why I decided to be braver that day, but when my teacher asked us to write about anything we could imagine, I wrote about the on thing I imagined every day for as long as I could remember. I wrote a story about a bunny who lost his mother in the forest. He searched everywhere in the forest, but he could not find his mother. Eventually, it started to get cold and the bunny was taken in by an interspecies group of animals for the winter who kept him safe. When the ground thawed and Spring arrived, they happily saw him on his way and he was able to find his mother, with whom he lived happily ever after. I guess what I'm saying is, I was inspired to write about adoption by grief, isolation, longing, and possibility. I had nowhere else to put it.
Q: (CUB) Was it difficult the first time you wrote about adoption publicly?
A: (Liz Latty) Yes. It is always difficult. That struggle is tempered by the response from other adoptees and first families. It has allowed me to connect and be connected. But it is always difficult.
Q: (CUB) How has adoption influenced your writing?
A: (Liz Latty) They say every writer has an obsession. The thing you keep writing about even when you think you aren't writing about it, even when you are actively trying not to write about it. I wouldn't necessarily say it is always adoption, but it is almost always family and because I am adopted, it is in one way or another about adoption and the way it has shaped the lens through which I see the world. I write in fragments a lot. Poetry is my first love. The complexity, the contradictions, the layers, the attempt to say the unsayable. For me, all these things relate to my experience of being adopted. And also a woman. And also queer. I can never sit down and write without being these things, so here they are.
Q: (CUB) Did you have any fears or any shame that you worried about chronicling?
A: (Liz Latty) I am always afraid at some point in every writing process. I think it is how you know you're writing the thing you need to write. More specifically, I have a lot of fear because my reunion was complicated and I haven't spoken to my first mother in 15 years. I am not actively trying to connect with her, but I've always wanted to keep the door open to the possibility that this isn't how our story ends. My fear is that she will see my writing and it will destroy that possibility. Shame is different, I think. I don't have shame about sharing my story, however there are parts of the story that bring up shame for me. But again, as a writer, those are the parts that I think are the most human and the most important to write into and reveal. I try to be as kind to myself as possible when confronting them. I run a lot, take a lot of baths, and I have a great therapist.
Q: (CUB): What are you working on now?
A: (Liz Latty) I am working on a book. Yes, it is (and isn't) about adoption.
Q: (CUB) What would you like CUB readers and members to know about you?
A: (Liz Latty) Not sure. Whatever it is, I'll put it in the book!
CUB Board Members
CUB COMMUNICATOR EDITOR: Sarah Burns
- Welcome to the Spring Issue of the CUB Communicator. We invite you to share with us your ideas and hope that you will contact us with information, news and updates. Here is your team and we look forward to hearing from you! - Sarah Burns, VP for Media and Communications
EDITORIAL SUPPORT: Kat Stanley, Patty Collings
TWITTER: Reanne Mosley and Kat Stanley
FACEBOOK: Sarah Burns, Sylvie Makara, Patty Collings, Betsey Holt, Bri Collins
‘No one else will ever know
the strength of my love for you.
After all, you're the only one
who knows what my heart sounds like
... from the inside.'
What We Lost: Undoing the Fairy Tale Narrative of Adoption
WHAT WE LOST: UNDOING THE FAIRY TALE NARRATIVE OF ADOPTION
January 3 is my Special Day. It is the anniversary of the day I was adopted. The day my parents bundled me up and brought me home to live in our red brick ranch house on West Chicago St. in a sprawling suburb just outside Detroit. As I grew up, I would hear the tale of this auspicious day time and time again. Sometimes even now, in my thirties, my parents like to retell it. Their eyes still shine with something expectant, something new.
We drove through the snow that morning to pick you up at the adoption agency. We were so excited. We’d been waiting so long for you; had prayed so hard. We held you in our arms. Your new brother made silly faces at you and you smiled and laughed at him. We took you home with us and our family was finally complete.
Although the Michigan court proceedings that legalized my adoption wouldn’t happen for another year and a half, my parents decided the January day they brought me home would be the symbolic day we celebrated our family making itself again each year.
I was told versions of the tale of my homecoming so many times over the years, it became somewhat like a myth. Perhaps the same way one’s birth story might feel mythical. And since this was the closest to a birth story anyone had to give me, it became part of the fabric of our family culture, like the storybook romance of my parents’ courtship that began with a canceled blind date in south St. Louis in 1963 and unfolded into their long prayed-for children arriving safely in their arms.
My brother had his own Special Day, having been adopted three years before me from a different family of origin. Our Special Day celebrations always included the retelling of the sweet tale of our arrivals, a small gift, and a special meal or dessert in our honor. I remember lovingly wrapped presents of longed-for books and shiny lip glosses, new CDs and all-you-can-eat dinners at the local Olive Garden. I liked feeling as though I had something akin to a second birthday. It made me feel different in a good way—like I got more than other kids to make up for the feeling that I somehow had less, or was missing something everyone else just naturally had.
At the same time, I felt acutely aware of how happy my mom and dad were on my Special Day, and how sometimes my feelings didn’t quite match up. Sometimes I would feel disconnected from the party, as if some other ghost girl were being celebrated as I watched. A girl who had one family that loved her, one family she belonged to, one name, one home, one story that began on that cozy January day and stretched on into happiness forever after. I would watch this girl celebrate with her family, watch them celebrate together, and I would feel hollow, empty in comparison. Eventually, as I grew into my teen years and my identity began shaping itself in part around this absence, I would come to an understanding that for my parents, my Special Day holds within its memory unbridled joy and relief—finally. But that for me, it holds something far more complicated.
Most mornings I sift through news stories from around the globe in search of content for an adoption news website I curate. As a result, I can safely tell you the majority of adoption-related news that doesn’t have to do with a celebrity adoption rarely makes it past small, local, or adoption-specific media platforms, or into the average person’s newsfeed on a regular basis. Yet this summer, when a five-year-old girl named Danielle had her adoption finalized in a Michigan courtroom, nine Disney princesses showed up to celebrate her, and a video of the joyous occasion went viral. Media outlets the likes of BuzzFeed, NBC, Refinery29, and Today.com ran the piece with headlines such as, “This Little Girl’s Adoption Hearing is a Real-Life Fairy Tale,” “Girl, 5, Gets Happily Ever After When Disney Princesses Surprise Her at Adoption Court Hearing,” and “Fairy-tale Ending as Disney Princesses Show Up for Adoption Hearing.”
I hesitated to watch the video. The all-too-familiar storyline linking adoption and fairy tales registered in my body as a flash of anxiety and exhaustion: Here we go again, I thought. But I clicked on it anyway and watched as a representative from the foster agency told us of Danielle’s obsession with Cinderella and everything Disney princess. My heart melted a little as I learned about the foster care workers who had arranged the elaborate surprise in an effort to make Danielle’s adoption day special. At the front of the courtroom next to Danielle sat her elated foster family of two years, for whom everything had lead up to this day in which they officially adopted Danielle, and another foster child, one-year-old Neveah, into their family. The anticipation in the room was electric as the judge offered Danielle the job of banging the gavel, symbolically sealing her own adoption, and the entire courtroom called out in unison, “It is so ordered!”
As the gavel crashed into its sounding block and a smiling, sweet-faced Danielle wobbled almost imperceptibly with the weight and force of it, I realized I’d been crying. The overwhelming sense of joy in the video, the love, the celebration of a family making itself, was beautiful. And, at the same time, I felt a familiar dull ache that often arrives as I watch adoptees at the center of someone else’s narrative.
I think what Danielle’s foster care workers and family did to make her day extra special was an incredibly loving gesture. And even though I can’t help but wonder what Danielle’s story is, what else she might have been feeling that day, or how she will come to think of that day in the future, what’s really troubling to me is why this video went viral when most adoption news goes quietly or not at all. What’s troubling to me is the particular brand of magic that Danielle’s story conjures for the rest of us.
There is no denying this video tugs at the heartstrings, but I believe it went viral for a very specific reason. With its fairy tale imagery and language, this video, and other sentimental representations of adoption, offer us the opportunity to further cement a narrative that we, in American society, have constructed over the last century and seem to need to believe in our individual and collective conscience: Adoption is a happy ending. Adoption is a win-win. Adoption is happily ever after. Unfortunately, this heartwarming narrative is a dangerous tale to tell and has far-reaching consequences.
The singular, unavoidable truth about adoption is that it requires the undoing of one family so that another one can come into being. And because of this, it is a practice, an institution, and a mode of family-making that is born of and begets trauma, loss, and grief. The fairy tale narrative of adoption denies adoptees the acknowledgement and support necessary to process their experiences across a lifetime. It delegitimizes the trauma of adoption loss and directly and indirectly influences the overwhelming statistics that show us adoptees are far more likely than the general population to struggle with trauma-related mental illness, suicide, and addiction.
By ignoring the complex reality of adoption, we are also corroborating a sentimental narrative that drives a billion-dollar, for-profit adoption industry whose sole purpose has been successfully shifted in modern American history from finding homes for children who legitimately need them, to supplying hopeful prospective parents with kids to call their own. The fairy tale narrative of adoption uncomplicates these truths and it lets us off the hook. It makes us feel good about each other and ourselves without having to face difficult complexities and integrate them into our understanding of not only what it means to be adopted, but also what it means to be human.
Inside the fairy tale, we don’t have to think about the darkness, the underbelly, or the unspeakable grief lying just below the surface of a child who has been severed from their home and family of origin. We don’t have to think about the countless pregnant people in the United States and across the globe who have been tricked, bribed, forced, and coerced into relinquishing their children or whose children are kidnapped and sold to agencies or intermediaries who stand to profit from their adoptions. Inside the fairy tale, we don’t have to think about all the first mothers and first families who would choose to keep their children or whose children might not have been unnecessarily or unjustly taken from them if they had access to the right kinds of support. The kinds of support that could be provided countless times over, both in the US and abroad, with the money currently invested in keeping the for-profit adoption industry and the child welfare industry in business.
So why do we love the adoption fairy tale so much? Most of us agree that modern day fairy tales have set us up for failure when it comes to beauty standards and romantic relationship expectations, but what about family-making?
I have the date of my Special Day tattooed on my left forearm along with the initials of the three first names I have been given—my birth name from my mother, a variation on her own mother’s name; my foster name from the people who cared for me in the interim; and my adoptive name from my parents, after the first American saint. Because people change children’s names, for a better fit, for a different life.
In my experience, most people that don’t know me well assume I inked my Special Day on my arm as a tribute to my adoption. A tribute to my forever family. To my happily ever after. Oh, how wonderful!, they exclaim smiling wide, knowing smiles. Except this is not at all why I wear the date on my arm. I wear it as a tribute to and an insistence on complexity. The complexity of a day that marks a beginning and an end, all at once. The beginning of my life with my adoptive family and the end of any possibility of returning to my family of origin. A family whose absence I felt as though my small body housed a haunting.
As a child, I never let on that I didn’t feel as excited as my parents did to celebrate my Special Day. This is a complicated hallmark of an adopted childhood. Adoptees often take on the emotional labor of holding our difficult feelings in places where no one can see them because we want to protect those around us from feeling hurt. There also often exists a very real and primal fear of further rejection. We understand we are loved and we understand love is tenuous, so we hide our feelings away because what if we didn’t? How will you feel? Will you be mad at me? Will you be hurt? Will you love me less? Will you send me back? I don’t want you to feel sad or think that I don’t love you, so I hold this hard truth. I hold it for you. I celebrate this day, in this way, for you.
In pictures of the day my parents brought me home from the adoption agency, I look like a baby. Utterly remarkable and yet not at all. In some pictures I look solemn, expressionless. In some I look happy, rosy-cheeked and smiling. There is no and every inference to be drawn as I sift through them, turn them over to see my mom’s handwriting, hold them up to the light. I can insert my adult feelings about this day into these pictures or not. I can choose how to narrate this story. I can tell a true story about a loving family that came to be. How long my parents had waited, had prayed. How they held me, finally. How I laughed at my brother because he made silly faces at me. How we went home together, forever. A family.
Twenty years later, although my parents (and consequently I) were told differently through agency records, I would find out that my eighteen-year-old mother had not wanted to give me up for adoption, but, like most original mothers, did not have the means to support me on her own and lived in a country unwilling to invest in helping single people, poor and working class people, people of color, queer people, immigrants, and young people keep their families sustainably intact. Though they were in love, my mother was not married to my seventeen-year-old father, and her family was Catholic. The answer was clear.
I was told her father made the decision that I would go away. A decision the family held against him for years afterward. A decision I believe I could see behind his eyes when he would try to look at me across a room or expanse of yard two decades later, after I found them.
I kept your newborn picture in my wallet for ten years or more, my mother’s younger sister tells me in a hotel bar. We always thought of you as The One That Got Away.
There is no record of the first five days of my life. I do not know if I was taken from my mother immediately or if we spent those last days together in the hospital. She was never able to speak of it during the time I knew her as an adult, before our reunion unraveled. Her sisters indicated to me they believed she no longer had access to these memories. That they had been too painful and she’d found somewhere to put them. I imagine a shoebox buried in the backyard of her parents’ home, the banks of the Detroit River eventually eroding, giving way, washing the memory of our time together into the tributaries and lakes that were the landscape of my childhood carrying on mere miles away.
The adoption agency placed me in a foster home on the fifth day, but my mother, not wanting to let me go, would come visit me. She asked her parents to take her there and they obliged. Once, she came alone. For two months, I lived in a stranger’s home without the person I’d come to know as intimately as one can. Except that sometimes she would come back for me. And then she would leave. And then she would come back. And then she would leave. As my body began to learn: this is what love is. Right up until that snowy January morning when I was taken to the adoption agency to meet my new parents and my new brother who made silly faces at me and I smiled. I laughed.
The late adoption scholar and activist, Reverend Keith C. Griffith, once said, “Adoption Loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful.” I come across this quote time and time again, more than any other, in the online adoptee and first mother communities. It is so often quoted I think, because it succinctly points to the glaring misconception, misrepresentation, and misalignment that exist between society’s narrative of adoption and our actual lived experiences as adopted people and first families. There is such a gulf, such a divide, and one that is valiantly defended by society’s deep need to believe a singular, uncomplicated truth about adoption, that those of us who have experienced the interior of an adopted life often feel completely erased and utterly silenced.
Society’s narrative of adoption tells adoptees, in no uncertain terms, if we were given to a loving home, we shouldn’t feel this pain, this chasm, this rip, this tear. We were saved, after all. We’re so much better off. We’re the lucky ones. Our parents must be such wonderful people. We must feel so grateful. How lucky. How special. We were meant to be together. Everything worked out just the way it was supposed to in the end.
It is here—in everyday encounters, in saccharine and reductive media representations, and even in our adoptive families—where adoptees are expected to embody the fairy tale narrative of adoption. A hopeful, well-intentioned narrative, but one that is historically steeped in white saviorhood and colonialism. One in which people with more financial resources, social capital, and most often racial privilege, feel entitled to the children of those with less privilege, opportunity, and support. And we have accepted this not only as an unquestionable good, but also as the best possible outcome.
But what exactly is being measured when weighing this out? Are we certain a child will be “better off” living with the irreparable wound of parental separation and more financial resources than with a low-income or working class parent in their family of origin? Certainly socioeconomic status is often a clear indicator of one’s opportunities in life, but what’s the trade off? I have often wondered what our lives would have looked like had my mother and father made the decision to strike out on their own and raise me. And I wonder too how much of our future might have been determined by the biases that are alive in these very same assumptions. Am I better off? Am I lucky? The truth is, we will never know. And this, too, is a loss.
I found my original family in my early twenties and for the last fifteen years, I have experienced wild anxiety, deep joy, profound grief, complex gratitude, rage, fear, alienation, belonging, contentment. I have made primal noises and shapes alone on the floor of a studio apartment when my mother stopped answering my letters after two and a half years of knowing her. I have gotten to watch new siblings grow into stunningly kind, caring, creative, bold, and generous young adults. And I recently reconnected again with my original father for the first time in nearly ten years. Perhaps it will be different this time. Perhaps it will stick. I hope so.
Three years ago I met my original grandmother and three aunts on my father’s side for the first time. I stood barefoot on a cold, tiled kitchen floor during a sweltering Southeastern Michigan heat wave, surrounded by four brazen women who looked and laughed and cursed just like me. I stood there in that kitchen as my grandmother tearfully handed me a jewelry box containing a pair of delicate earrings, tiny gold hoops with sparkling lavender gems—a family heirloom. I stood there as they apologized for not knowing about me. Apologized that I’d been a secret. Apologized for whom?
We didn’t know, they said to me. If we’d known, we would have kept you. We would have raised you ourselves.
In that moment, I felt wanted, I felt important, I felt loved beyond measure, and at the exact same time, another ghost girl was born. A girl who was raised by four strong, independent, take-no-shit, hilarious, hardworking women in a working-class town. She had one family and one name and one home and she knew where she belonged. I watched the ghost girl’s whole life unfold in that moment. I fell in love with her. And then I began the task of grieving her. I’m still grieving her. I’m not sure how to let her go.
Adoption loss is an ambiguous loss. While it changes shape over time, it is often life-long. It is without end. I have lost my entire family and yet, there are no bodies to bury, no socially acceptable ritual or process meant for me to understand this loss and how to live with it. My mother went on living, became someone else’s mother, while I lived my young life with only the presence of her absence and the fracturing unknown. Maybe she’s alive; maybe she’s dead. Maybe she loves me; maybe she has forgotten me. Maybe anything.
Even after reunion, if it is possible or desired, there are new losses, new lives, and new selves to grieve. Loss of this magnitude and with this kind of ambiguity most often does not simply resolve itself. Adoptees must learn how to live with it over time, yet we must do so in the face of society insisting we exude joy, gratitude, and luck. An insistence that often means the kind of support we need to manage our grief is either nonexistent or unavailable to us. Imagine for a moment, if we treated other losses this way. Imagine losing a loved one—tragically, unexpectedly—and then being expected to behave as though it was the best thing that ever happened to you.
We need a new adoption narrative. We need to ask ourselves why we have historically needed to perpetuate the sentimental fairy tale narrative of adoption that only serves to hurt those at the center of it and to support an industry in dire need of reconstruction. We need a narrative that can celebrate love and family-making, but which does not insist that adoption is always the best option. That in fact, it is often unnecessary and the most generous, altruistic thing we can possibly do is to help prevent another child and first family from having to live with a lifetime of loss and grief. We need a narrative that centers the voices of adopted people and can hold the complexity of our multiple and fractured truths. That can hold all of it. Because I think this is the reality of being adopted—holding these seemingly contradictory, disparate, complicated truths, in the same body, always. Holding deep grief and profound joy in the same breath. Holding love for one mother that does not negate the love for another mother. Belonging partly to one family or country or culture, partly to another, but maybe never feeling as though we belong to either. Feeling both wanted and unwanted, both chosen and abandoned. Wanting to belong here and wanting to go back there.
What if we, as a society, chose to hold all these truths at the same time, at the same pitch, without the need to push one out in favor of the other? How might our questions or actions or beliefs about adoption change? How might our ideas about loss change? About healing? About family?
Though we live on opposite sides of the country now, sometimes my parents and I are in the same place on January 3 and we celebrate my Special Day together. We still eat, we talk, we laugh, we remember. And at some point, later that day or the next, I mark it in my own way, privately, for me. I meditate, I cry, I go to nature—the ocean especially. The ocean rebalances me, stirs a kind of biological rhythm in my body, a point of origin. And the ocean is always bigger and stronger than whatever you bring to its shore. There is comfort in the humbling, in one’s own smallness.
This past January, after thirty-six Januaries, I finally told my parents that my Special Day means something very different for me than it does for them. Fear and shame and guilt licked at my heart as I opened my mouth to say the words. I still wanted to protect them. I wanted to protect them from me. But because the impulse to protect others from their own feelings about my adoption ignites resentment in me, a desire to be the one protected instead, I was cold and forceful in my telling. It’s the day I lost my family. Why would I want to celebrate that? This wasn’t the plan. I didn’t mean to, but this is what happened. I wasn’t prepared for the force with which a truth, held inside a body for thirty-six years, would emerge. I can still see the sadness in their eyes as they listened carefully and nodded, Yes, ok, we hear you.
I left their house later that day, the day before my Special Day, without saying much. I went to a friend’s place a few hours away, in a town I used to call home and didn’t return for a week. I felt guilty about how I handled it and I wasn’t ready yet to try again. The truth is, my parents and I haven’t always had an easy relationship. My unresolved childhood grief made for an angry, rebellious adolescence that left my parents at the end of their rope. When I came out of the closet at eighteen, it proved irreconcilable with their devout Catholicism and there were years of deep distance before we were able to find common ground again. When I found my original family, my parents acted threatened and scared and were unable to figure out a way to support me around it for many years. This is not a laundry list of anyone’s failings. This is complexity. This is a family.
Watching Danielle’s adoption hearing reminded me of how much I adore adoptees. How fierce, independent, resourceful, hard-loving, loyal, brilliant, and creative we are. Not in spite of, but alongside this grief we carry. How the first time I was ever in a room full of adoptees, I felt an atmospheric shift. I mean this in the planetary sense. I was never the same again. I had been given permission to be myself for the first time without having to navigate someone else’s need for my story to reflect a fairy tale ending.
This was when I began to dream in earnest about what it would be like for adoptees to exist in a world that understands the paradoxical experiences that we live. A world that does not insist on reducing us to cheerful assumptions and sentimental media representations. A world that accepts adoption not as an unquestionable, benevolent good, not as a fairy tale ending, but as an event that forever changes and complicates the lives of everyone involved. That when the gavel crashes into the sounding block, literally or symbolically, it is both a fracturing and a coming together, a severing and a multiplication, a derailment and a hope for the uncertain path ahead.
Image credits: feature image, image 2. All photographs provided courtesy of author.
Poem for a Lost Child
I long to have you next to me
to know that you are here.
Although I cannot touch you now,
One day you will be near.
Forever I will search for you
to hold, to hug, to feel
The love I have for you my child
is honest, true and real.
At times it's but a person's faith
that gets one through each day.
Faith gives us each the strength we need
to help us find our way.
You know how much I love you
I pray that you love me
And so forever and a day,
searching's where I'll be.
For a mother's love and a mother's faith,
and mother's beating heart
will bring you back to me again
and never more us part.
2017 CUB Retreat Preview
"The CUB retreat is one of the high points of my year: It is the one place I can share my story and my experience without shame, knowing I will be understood, accepted and embraced by others who have experienced a similar loss. The adoptees, birthparents, adoptive parents, spouses, friends and adoption professionals surround one another with love."
--- A Grateful Triad Member
Information about the CUB Retreat:
Dates: October 6-8, 2017
Location: Hilton Garden Inn, Carlsbad, CA
Hotel Room: $139.00 plus 10% tax
Cost of the Retreat: $225.00
Members take a $50.00 discount
Single Day : $85.00 (Includes hosted dinner)
Registration opens in June -- stay tuned!
Adoption IS a Feminist Issue: But Not for The Reasons You Think
Adoption IS a Feminist Issue
Adoption is a complex billion-dollar business that often increases inequality.
In their efforts to cure what they see as a moral crisis infecting our nation, the anti-choice movement has historically thrown their power, money, and influence behind their two favorite antidotes to abortion: abstinence-only education and adoption. In any era when reproductive rights are being rolled back, as they are now, feminists need to get stronger and clearer about where we stand and what we’re fighting for. We all know, both from data and from common sense, that abstinence education is not only a failure but wildly detrimental to the health and safety of young people. But there doesn’t yet seem to be a broader understanding, even in the mainstream feminist and pro-choice movements, that promoting adoption has its problems too.
Mainstream feminism — feminism by and for middle and upper-middle-class white women — has historically gotten behind adoption. Feminists have supported the rights of single people and same-gendered families to adopt, the rights of adoptive families in contested adoptions, and policies intended to get children into adoptive homes faster. What’s missing from mainstream feminism is any explicit support for families of origin: the parents who have to lose their children, the families that must be dismantled in order for adoptive families to be built.
What’s missing from mainstream feminism is any explicit support for the families that must be dismantled in order for adoptive families to be built.
When I was growing up, my parents always told me how brave and smart my birth mother was. How she loved me so much that she made the selfless choice to give me up because she wanted me to have a better life — because as an unwed 17-year-old, a high school senior, she knew she couldn’t be a good parent to me. She had made this choice, they said, selflessly and graciously, with the support of everyone around her, so that I could have the life I truly deserved. My parents did not invent this language, of course; it was given to them by adoption professionals, adoption books, and support groups, and they repeated it, lovingly, insistently, until we all believed it was true. Like so many adoptees, however, the truths of my beginnings are infinitely more complicated, more painful, and have nothing whatsoever to do with choice.
After finding my family of origin in my early twenties, I was able to piece together a more accurate, nuanced story of my beginnings. A story of a white, working-class girl who benefitted from racial privilege, but lacked any real financial resources or power of her own. A terrified girl. A girl who was pressured, demonized, and ostracized, by her own family and community. A girl who was told by loved ones and professionals that she was unfit to be a mother because she was young and unmarried, because she wouldn’t be able to give me the things I needed, like food or love or a moral compass. Though she wanted to keep me, her parents sent her away to one of those homes where they hid pregnant girls and shamed them into compliance — the kind of place people say didn’t exist after Roe v. Wade. Except this was 1978, half a decade after people who could get pregnant had theoretically won the ability to make more uninhibited choices about whether or not to become parents. My mother, in reality, did not have the ability to make a real, authentic choice. And many pregnant people still do not have this ability. Because a choice made in the absence of other choices has nothing to do with choice.
My mother, in reality, did not have the ability to make a real, authentic choice.
The fact is, most people who relinquish their children for adoption or have their children taken away from them, both in the U.S. and internationally, do so as a result of economic and racial injustice. In a recent study published by The Donaldson Adoption Institute, only a third of first mothers (often the preferred term instead of “birth mothers”) who were interviewed reported that the decision to relinquish their parental rights was largely based on their own wishes. The number one reason first mothers relinquish their parental rights, according to the DAI report, is lack of financial resources (82%), followed by the absence of social support, and isolation. In addition, most cases of children removed from their families by state intervention and adopted through foster care are reported as cases of neglect, which are typically a result of poverty and the classist and racist biases embedded in the fabric of the child welfare system that deem poor, mostly Black and brown parents as immoral and unfit.
In the case of an unwanted pregnancy, a pregnant person seeking options counseling is ideally given thorough, unbiased, non-judgmental information about their three options: abortion, adoption, and parenting. If a person is even considering adoption, they are typically referred to a local adoption agency by their health-care provider, or they find one on their own. Unfortunately, according to the National Pro-Choice Adoption Collaborative, over 95% of adoption agencies in this country are religiously affiliated. You likely won’t be surprised to hear that adoption professionals are often not giving thorough information about abortion as an option in their counseling practices — 40% of the mothers in the DAI study said it was never mentioned. But they’re also not presenting parenthood as a viable option, either.
The Body From Which I Was Born
According to the DAI study, most first mothers interviewed reported little to no access to information about parenting from adoption professionals. And yet, the vast majority — 87% of first mothers in the study — said their preferred option was in fact to parent their child. It’s just that no one ever told them they had a right to do so, or offered resources to help. Many first mothers report they were already considered “birth mothers” the minute they walked through the agency doors, instead of pregnant people contemplating their options, and that the professionals they worked with unequivocally considered a positive outcome to be a signed and sealed adoption. And these are just some of your standard, run-of-the-mill American adoption agencies; we haven’t even talked about the often criminally coercive crisis pregnancy centers which routinely pressure vulnerable people into relinquishing their children. Or the fact that many private adoptions are facilitated through lawyers as solely financial and legal transactions with zero social services attached to help anyone through this life-altering experience.
As reproductive rights are rolled back, timelines in which people can legally get abortions, should they have the resources and power to access them, are shrinking. This means more people could be left to decide between adoption and parenting as their only viable options. If already abysmal social services are also being rolled back, parenting becomes less of an option. And if adoption is being promoted by the very people who are rolling back our rights, what kind of promotion, what kind of agencies, and what kinds of counseling do we really think will be at the forefront of these efforts?
Here’s a truth that can be hard to hear: Adoption is a trauma. The separation of parents and children, the dismantling of families, even at birth, is very often traumatic and can result in enormous amounts of suffering and lifelong consequences for first parents and adoptees, as well as the families and communities to which they belong. The majority of first parents surveyed say they were never truthfully informed about the potential for trauma, to themselves or their children. They are often told they might feel a little sad for a while and then they’ll get over it — but many don’t. And many parents say they regret their decision, even if they feel like it was probably the right one to make at the time.
Here’s an even harder truth: The adoption industry is a business. It generates billions of dollars each year and requires other people’s children in order to stay profitable.
The adoption industry is a business. It generates billions of dollars each year and requires other people’s children in order to stay profitable.
Here’s the toughest truth yet: Those children are almost always the children of poor and working class people, people of color, native and indigenous people, and young people. The people who adopt them, who directly benefit from the economic and racial oppression of these groups, are most often middle and upper-middle-class people and are primarily white.
The mainstream feminist movement has been, by and large, pro-adoption and has resisted an explicitly intersectional position on the inequities and injustices that typically bring adoptive families together. There are many reasons for this, but here are the two I think about the most:
1. Mainstream feminism has historically assumed that the decision to relinquish a child for adoption is a choice that people make freely, and that the people who choose it do so because they don’t believe in abortion.
2. Mainstream white feminists are part of the primary demographic that stands to benefit the most from adoption.
There will likely always be children who need to be adopted into loving families and held tightly by those families, their communities, and high quality support services across a lifetime. But if, as feminists, we believe that all people should have the ability to make informed and supported choices about becoming parents or not, then we should work to make these instances rare. That means, of course, there will be fewer adoptable children, but we must understand that families are not interchangeable and that the desire to become a parent through adoption does not make anyone entitled to someone else’s child. As it stands in this country, market forces in adoption, coupled with racist and classist state interventions and a reductive societal narrative that sees adoption as a fairy-tale ending where everybody wins, mean that people who have class and race privilege will continue to build their own families through the constrained choices, coercion, and loss of those who do not. This is a feminist issue.
The Reproductive Justice movement, pioneered and led by Black feminists and women of color, teaches us that all people should have “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” If we think about adoption through this lens, and in particular, the right to parent the children we have, we see that we must ask something very different of mainstream feminism. Committing ourselves to reproductive justice, to human rights, demands that we fight for the economic and racial justice to ensure all pregnant people are able to make informed, authentic decisions for themselves, and that families who want to stay together have the autonomy and support necessary to do so.
Committing ourselves to reproductive justice demands that we fight for families who want to stay together to have the autonomy and support necessary to do so.
I want to challenge feminist organizations and activists to incorporate an intersectional understanding of and position on adoption as part of their reproductive platforms. Read adoptee and first parent experiences.
Listen to adoptee scholars, writers, activists, and artists. Listen to families who have been disrupted or broken through state intervention. Have the hard conversations. From the Women’s March to Planned Parenthood to local grassroots organizing, there is much room for complexity, nuance, and growth around this issue. Feminists have a responsibility to take this on.
"Lord of the Underworld’s Home for Unwed Mothers"
"Lord of the Underworld’s Home for Unwed Mothers"
Many CUB members in the Los Angeles area recently had the opportunity to see a fascinating new play written by Louisa Hill called “Lord of the Underworld’s Home for Unwed Mothers.” Hill wrote her first draft of the play at age 22, and refined it into the award-winning and stunning theatrical piece it is today by the tender age of 29. She had no personal knowledge of the birthmother/adoptee experience, and the play is based largely on Ann Fessler’s best-selling book, “The Girls Who Went Away.” (Ann Fessler's book was published and rose to prominence just over 10 years ago. Make sure to read Ann’s book if you have not already!) Many of the subjects in Ann Fessler’s book are CUB members, and so the stories are very familiar to our audience. It was quite special to see them brought to the stage in Louisa Hill’s play.
Hill said that Fessler’s book introduced her to this devastating history-- half of the book is comprised of first person accounts of women who had been sent away. Hill had been unfamiliar with the stories that Ann Fessler told in her book, and she was moved to tears when she read about all the women who surrendered children for adoption in the decades before Roe v. Wade. Since it is largely a hidden history, playwright Hill was shocked and stunned by the power and pain of those women’s stories. Their pain comes through in the play.
The play has a simple yet talented cast of just four actors, each playing several different characters, and it tells two different stories: one story is told from the perspective of the birth mother, and the other story is told from the perspective of the adopted daughter. The acting is excellent, and the interpretation of each role is sympathetic often and profound. Corryn Cummins dominates as the birthmother in the first act, while Michaela Slezak takes control as a young adult adoptee in the second half.
This play is important not only because it educates the general public about the lifelong impact of adoption, but also because all members of the triad can learn from it. Birth parents can learn to better understand their children, adoptive parents can learn to better understand their adopted children, and adoptees have a chance to express their own pain, and also experience and potentially learn what it was like in the decades before their birth.
The significance of choice is important in this play, not just because it is a right that millions of women stand to lose today, but because it examines the roots of reproductive injustice. All members of the triad will find it difficult, challenging, and triggering with its raw emotions and language. Much to the playwright’s credit, all of the actors portray a deep awareness of the significance of trauma and loss in the lives of both birthmothers and adoptees.
The play was performed at the Skylight Theatre in Los Angeles, and had an extended stay of several months. Each Sunday it featured weekly “talk backs” with actors and members of the reproductive justice and adoption community. The editor hopes this play will be shown around the country and serve to educate many more people about the lifelong impact of adoption. Make sure to see it if you can! And bring plenty of hankies!
OUR ANNUAL CUB RETREAT - October 6-8, 2017 - Carlsbad, CA
The annual CUB Retreat will take place from October 6-8, 2017 at the Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad, CA. Ask anyone who has attended, and you will hear stories of members of the adoption triad coming together to heal, learn, grown and support each other. The retreat is a safe space where all who wish can share honestly and openly about their adoption story. We have several speakers confirmed, and we will offer intimate discussions on trauma and loss in adoption; facing addiction in adoption; search and reunion; healing through writing; plus exciting evening entertainment and hospitality.
PLEASE JOIN US! Registration online or via paper sign-up will be available soon.
Costs for CUB Retreat 2017 are as follow:
Room rate $139 + 10% tax
Full registration for Members $175
Full registration for non-Members $225
Full registration includes all presentations plus a hosted dinner on Friday and Saturday nights plus Sunday breakfast. Note: join before your register to get the member discount!!!
Early registration deadline is Sept. 14th
Late registration will be accepted until Oct 1st with $25 late fee
Single day $85 includes hosted dinner
Forever is a Lie
Forever Is a Lie
When you were just a baby,
I had to say goodbye.
Although many years have passed,
My tears have yet to dry.
My precious little baby,
I may have said goodbye,
But goodbye was not forever,
Forever was a lie.
And so it is I've searched for you,
Throughout the lonely years.
Hoping that I'd find you,
To my daughter, Karen.
So I could wipe away your tears.
And tell you, my sweet baby,
Something you should know.
If I'd had that choice again,
I'd have never let you go.
With all my love,
Dianne, Your Birth Mom
CUB RETREAT SCHOLARSHIP FUND
You can help pay the way for a young birthmother to come to the CUB retreat. Help defray the cost of young moms so they can attend the October retreat. You can donate at any level, and every penny helps! The more money we raise, the more birthmoms we can reach! Send a check now to:
Concerned United Birthparents (CUB)
P.O. Box 5538
Sherman Oaks, CA 91413
Phone: (800) 822-2777
or you can make a direct donation by simply clicking: here
___$ Other Amount (Any/all donations welcome and will be used for scholarships.)
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CUB 2017 Retreat Scholarship Opportunities!
CUB is excited to announce there will be scholarships for the October 2017 CUB Retreat. To be eligible for consideration, you must complete the scholarship application (see contact information below). We welcome applications from birthparents, adoptees, adoption professionals, and other adoption constellation members* who would not otherwise be able to attend our annual retreat.
*Adoptive parents, siblings (adopted also, or raised with), aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.
There are two types of scholarships available: