In response to today’s National Adoption Month prompt from Lost Daughters, I’d like to share a poem I wrote years ago after my first child was born. This poem was originally published at Poets on Adoption in 2011.
with your mother’s wide eyes,
olive skin and old-world customs,
with cousins akin to sisters
with your father’s gravelly voice,
his cleft branded on your chin,
his surname on your back
You cannot conceive what I saw
when I studied my boy
lying bundled like a burrito
innocently twisting in the plastic hospital bassinet
I gazed into a mirror
and saw my gray eyes for the first time
and saw my milky skin for the first time
and saw my Slavic nose for the first time
and saw my earnest expression for the first time
For the first time I saw
my mother and my father
Use of the term “birth mother” to mean a woman who has relinquished a child to adoption can be traced back to Pulitzer Prize winning author Pearl S. Buck, who was herself an adoptive mother and who also founded an adoption agency. Buck first wrote about the adoption “birth mother” back in 1956, though the term gained broad popularity during the 1970s.
In, 1976 Lee Campbell formed an organization specifically for mothers like herself who had lost children to adoption. For many decades, these women had been called natural mothers, but adoptive parents objected to the term because it painted adoptive mothers as the unnatural alternative. Adoptive parents preferred to say “biological mother,” but those mothers themselves felt that term was too reductive. So, Campbell chose to call herself and other women like her “birthmothers,” and named her organization Concerned United Birthparents (CUB), “hoping to forge a cohesive identity that mothers and fathers with children missing in adoption could rally around.”
In 1979, Marietta Spencer published an article on “The Terminology of Adoption” in Child Welfare, in which she introduced the concept of Positive Adoption Language (PAL). This model has evolved over subsequent decades into Respectful Adoption Language (RAL).
RAL says that “birthmother” is a positive, respectful term for a woman who relinquishes a child to adoption. RAL also says that “adoptive mother” is a negative, disrespectful term for a woman who becomes a parent through adoption; the only positive, respectful term for this woman, according to RAL, is simply “mother.” RAL has evolved to reinforce the validity of the adoptive family. Continue reading “My Adoptivemother and My Birth Mother”→
In just five days on March 20, the estimated 400,000 people adopted in Ohio between 1964 and 1996 will be able to request and obtain their original birth certificates, and I am even more thrilled now than I was at the end of 2013, when legislation was finally passed to restore this right to us.
I am one of the people who fall into this category of Ohio adoptees, whose right to their real, factual birth certificate was revoked through legislation authored in large part by adoptive parents back in the mid-1960s. You can learn more about how this happened and the long effort to reverse this misguided law here and here.
Personally, I have been luckier than most of my fellow Ohio adoptees because I was able to identify and reunite with my biological parents without having my original birth certificate (OBC), and I was also able to obtain my OBC with the assistance of my birth mother. Even though I already knew my birth name, the names of my birth parents, and the circumstances surrounding my conception, birth, and relinquishment, it was vital to me to see and hold that one piece of paper that documents my entry into this world. Finally, I felt real–created and birthed in the same way that all the non-adopted people I knew were. Continue reading “Congratulations Ohio Adoptees!”→
Whew, it’s been a long time since I posted here about what’s going on with me. Here it is March and I’m just finally feeling recovered from the holidays. I always think I’m not making enough progress in this endeavor of writing and advocacy–until I put down what I’ve been up to.
The next big thing coming up on my schedule is the American Adoption Congress Conference, where I’ll be moderating a panel discussion with my adoptee sisters from Lost Daughters on March 28. Ten of us will talk about diverse narratives within the collective adoptee voice. Early-bird registration rates have been extended, so there’s still time to make your plans to meet us in Boston. We’ll also have copies of our anthology on hand and our signing pens ready!
At the end of January, I launched a new website I’ve been working on for some time, called Adoptee Reading Resource. My goal with the site is twofold: to catalog every book written by an adoptee that I can identify and to also list adoption books authored by non-adoptees that adoptees recommend. In other words, it’s an adoptee-centric book site, to enable adoptees–and everyone else–to discover adoptee-centric books. (Yes, I can work in the word “adoptee” a few more times if you’d like.) Now that it’s live, I’m excited to see how it grows.
One of the requirements for my master’s thesis in creative writing was that I compile a list of books pertinent to the thing I was creating, references that might inform either the content or the form of the stories and poems I was writing. My thesis revolved around the lived experiences of adoptees, so I wanted to find published books by and about adoptees.
Have you ever tried searching for adoptee books? If you have, you know that they’re lumped in with the books explaining how to prepare to adopt a child and the books by adoptive parents about raising an adopted child and the books by professionals advising how to deal with an adopted child. Under “adoption” you’ll also find stories of birth parents and accounts of how adoption as a practice began and reports on how adoption as an industry has evolved.
It’s nearly impossible to filter out the adoptee books from the vast number of adoption books sold by major retailers or housed in library systems. Equally impossible is locating the adoptees writing poetry or literary fiction–these works often don’t even make it into the adoption category. I found lists compiled by others who were also interested in adoptee books. A list over here, another list over there–none of them comprehensive. Continue reading “Announcing Adoptee Reading Resource: New Website for Books by Adoptees”→