Genetics, Adoption and First World Curiosities

For much of my life I’ve succumbed to the idea that many of my unanswerable questions fall under the umbrella of nature. I hoped that someday my genetic questions would be answered through a one-time meeting or a picture (thinking that was all the openness I’d ever get). I wanted to know if my birth mom is right handed or left handed or if my birth father had dimples. I assumed that everyone in my birth family had brown eyes, 4c hair texture and dark skin. But my curiosities didn’t stop there, I was also curious about some of possibly genetically impacted markers like “Achoo Syndrome” (a dominant trait also called, photo sneeze reflex), or “hand clasping” (learning which thumb one automatically places on top of the other when clasping hands together). After reuniting with my birth family I learned some of these answers, bur remained curious about similarities between blood relatives that aren’t necessarily within the genetic category, but actually may not have to do with nurture either…

 I was enamored with this photo (this is the first time I met my birth father) for many reasons, but specifically I kept looking at our fingers. The placement on the knee, the spacing between our fingers.

I have been enamored with this photo (this is the first time I met my birth father) for many reasons, but specifically I continue to look at our fingers. The placement on the knee, the spacing between our fingers.

For example, I’ve wondered; If a birthmother and her child reunite at a later age and find out that they both use smiley faces to dot their I’s is this a coincidence, or could it be explained by genetics? (this is a true story btw).

Another [recent] example that has me scratching my head;

While on the phone with my birth mother, Deborah, she said

“Your [adoptive] father sure is smart! Don’cha wish you could just crack his head open and take a look at his brain?”

Why yes! – I wanted to exclaim, but Deborah couldn’t possibly have known about all of the time I spent time in undergrad researching brains, and that I’d you-tubed every TEDtalk having to do with brain science and the psychology of why we do the things we do, read many books on the neurobiology of our brain, and singlehandedly tried to learn about the key differences between the brains of those who’ve been abused in utero, and those who were born with healthy utero experiences. I have long dreamed of looking at the minds of people and learning how traumas have affected their amygdala, or what makes different neurotransmitters fire. Yes, Deborah. My answer is yes! Wait…does that mean she’s done all of this, too?

Okay – I understand, that one was kinda a stretch, though titillating for sure. How about this one;

When I met my birthfather after being introduced to Bryan he replied; “It’s good ta meet’cha Bryan. B-R-Y-A-N, Bryan” spelling his name out loud. At that moment my mom and I exchanged long glances silently flashing back to all of the times I spelled out words just for the sake of spelling out the word. Throughout my childhood we thought this habit was to help me to more clearly understand the word as my hearing loss made it difficult to hear the difference between the words “curb” and “curve.” But now…now I wonder – could this be genetic?

Seems kinda goofy, I know, but these are the subtleties that matter after a couple of decades of deprivation. Example #3:

When my sister met her birth mom about two years ago, we all immediately noticed their similar sense of humor and their biting sarcasm (Example – I can guarantee they’ll both laugh at this joke; “Two scientists walk into a bar. The first one hits his head. The second one does too, in order to verify his results.”). Anyways, more interesting to me was how quickly they began discussing cats. I can’t remember a time when our family did not have a pet cat that my sister took care of. She has received countless gifts, cards and shirts that have pictures of cats on them – she can never have too many. It won’t surprise me if/when my sister and her birthmother both post a status update with the same pun about cats. Will I think it to be a coincidence? Probably not.

 

Not only does my brother and his twin look alike (obviously they are identical twins), but they even act alike after living their entire lives in different families. We've learned that they've made similar life choices throughout their lives at the same points in their lives.

My brother and his identical twin grew up in different families (long story). After unexpectedly reuniting at age 18 they learned how they made similar life choices at similar times in their lives.  Scientists who’ve studied identical twins who were raised separately have found that they had similar intelligence, personality, career and leisure interest.  

I’m no longer solely curious about hitchhikers thumb (the autosomal recessive trait of having a thumb curved back at nearly a 90 degree angle), diabetes or depression, but am continually curious about how to reason and understand the non-genetic similarities between biologically related peoples who haven’t known each other. Of course, I’m well aware that these are First World Curiosities and that without the good fortune of early childhood nurture, it’d be a far cry that I’d even be positing these questions.

I greatly dislike the idea of using adoptees for scientific experiments, or my first world curiosities, but it’d sure be wonderful to learn whether of not there is a genetic mutation for spelling, hobbies, smiley faces, or…a love of cats.

New Book Written By and For Adoptees; Dear Wonderful You

Dear Wonderful You is an anthology of letters written by adoptees specifically to foster youth and teen/tween adoptees. This book will come out sometime in the fall of 2014. I was honored to be asked to contribute to this anthology, and wrote a letter specifically to one of the most special people in my life. She happens to be featured as the “actress” in the book trailer (watch the video below).

Video credit: Fob & Dongle Productions

How This Adoptee Feels About Her Birthday

I am currently sitting in a viral incubator AKA, an airplane, flying over one of the Great Lakes en route to Philadelphia on this day after my birthday. I’m cramped in the middle seat with billions of microscopic cabin air pathogens swirling around mixed with my never-ending thoughts. I’ve contemplated reaching across my neighbor to lower the window shade so I can drift off in to a blissful dream, but that would be rude and ignorance doesn’t do my body any good. I decide to keep my laptop out, and let my stream of consciousness go – a belated birthday present to myself of sorts.

This weekend I’m speaking to The Academy of American Adoption Attorneys for their annual conference – I’m looking forward to meeting more professionals within the adoption community, and to be involved in legal conversations around adoption ethics. As I approach this weekend it’s saddened me to realize that historically I’ve lumped adoption attorneys in to one stereotypical pile. I’ve considered them to be nothing more than the folks who pushed the paper that led to the separation with my birth-family and the subsequent unification of my now-family as if this was as routine a job as scooping ice cream on a sunny day. I posit my angst to be rooted in the fact that the week after my actual birth date an attorney somewhere in the State of Tennessee scooped me up and moved me – in the legal sense – without listening to my pre-verbal cries. This is the precise moment that I feel my birthdate became reduced to a confusing date on the calendar, devoid of celebration and mired with illegible signatures, legalese and a sorry name; Baby Girl, ______ (my original last name was redacted of course). I hope you don’t misunderstand what I’m attempting to communicate.  I have had many a wonderful birthdates which included candy filled piñata parties in my parents’ backyard, Oreo ice cream cakes with candles blazing on the top awaiting my wish, beautifully wrapped gifts filled with books, games, outfits – all of the quintessential Americanisms that turn a birthdate in to a celebratory occasion. To top it off most of my large family was generally present to revel in the celebration of birth and life.

Though my birthday was typically surrounded by youthful anticipation, joyful celebrations and reminiscent fun, these celebrations naturally also conjured up images of a stranger writing my thoughtless name; “Baby Girl” on my motherless crib.

This year was filled with many unforeseen highlights and privileges I’m still working to understand how I could be afforded such goodness, the least of which being the chance to hang out with my birthmom and show her around the city where I grew up.

Through all of the highlights of this past year, including, traveling to speak with transracial adoptive parents, listening to young adoptees try to make sense of their story, text messaging a friend in the Congo who has spent the past few months living with her children in their home country, and listening to my brother read his original birth certificate for the first time and learning how intoxicated his birth mother was during delivery, it can’t be understated the toll that these stories have taken. It is my great hope that the decision-makers at the conference this weekend will gain clearer understanding of how simultaneously woven in to each of these highlights are lowlights if looked at through an adoptee lens.

Though this year is certainly celebratory and cake-worthy I can’t help but to see the irony that the actual day of my birth is shrouded in more mystery than fact – largely due to the very people to whom I will be speaking. Rather than feel anger in the awareness that I cannot yet find or meet my other birth sister because of rules put in place by the folks in that room, I am choosing to accept this moment as redemption. As an adult I will be speaking to a group of people who were the first people to speak for me when I was just one year old. Oh the irony.

I’m so glad to continue to have the opportunity to give voice to adoptees.

Quote

Dear Writers, Listeners, and Writers Who Do Not Listen. Guest Post by Diku Rogers

This poem is exquisite in its beauty, and poignant in its words. I’ve chosen to share her voice on my platform as our society continues to grapple with what it means to be privileged, what it means to have privileges and how to reconcile that within yourself so as not to feel ashamed for being born in to a society that overtly values or devalues you, nor to be ignorant of this same point. I can especially empathize with Diku’s frustration around spellcheck not recognizing the word microagressions, as I have often wanted to punch my computer screen for giving the red squiggly line under the word, “adoptee” — what a clear example of one way adoptees feel that our very being is less than.

 

Dear Writers, Listeners, and Writers who do not Listen

This piece was originally published at Soar. Diku Rogers is a junior in college from Brooklyn, New York. 

My poetry makes you uncomfortable
My stories do not make sense to you
My characters are not “relatable”
So, like many have said before me,
Please take several seats.

Your privilege will not show up on my pages.
It is not my fault that the reality of my reality
Is a universe you can never imagine
The sh*t that goes down for me
Goes right over your head
You search through my words
Like they are broken mirrors
Looking for some resemblance of yourself
You will not find yourself here.
You will not find yourself in the dropping of my “g’s”
Or my metaphors of city streets and Caribbean eats
You will not find yourself
In my similes of browns and blacks
You will not find yourself
In my harsh tone
I have no atonement
For your inability to empathize.

Stop trying to gentrify my stories
They do not need more characters YOU can relate to.
They do not need more characters that look like you.
Go look in your English classes, History textbooks, dining halls and dormitories.
I will not twist my words to appease you.
My characters are already oppressed by the pages they are confined to.
Every narrative does not have your voice. Deal with it.

How quick you are to praise
The story of a “typical” college kid
But notice how quick you judge
The microaggressions faced by a little black girl.
As I type this a red line appears under the word “microagression”
I mean Microsoft Word doesn’t even know what the f*ck I’m talking about.

Dear Writers, Listeners, Writers who do not listen
You wanna kick it with Raymond Carver but can’t take Audre Lorde out on a date.
You’re afraid to sit with James Baldwin at lunch but you run to stand in line next to Bukowski.

Writers, Listeners, Writers who do not listen
You amaze me
Tell me what it’s like
To pick up your pen
And not have it bleed to death
With ink that’s black like me
Now before you tell me how hard it’d be
To write with a white pen
Have you ever heard of invisible ink?
It’s written all over your face
Signed on all your credit card receipts
It’s used in court rooms
And classrooms
Which are sometimes the same thing
Because while you cast judgement
I am tired of being trialed
I am tired of shining
My black light on your invisible writing
Trying to make you see the words
You don’t have to say

Your privilege will not show up on my pages.
And I am trying to get published
So realize you will not find yourself in my words.
Cause I had to realize- a long time ago- that I wasn’t going to find mine in yours.

Black Angst: Outside The Quite Visible Black Backpack

Black Backpack
A professor at Seattle Pacific University recently told me that she requires her students to read Peggy McIntosh’s essay, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. My gut reaction was that of delight and satisfaction. A feeling of being glad that students in the very Caucasian northwest corner of the United States, at a college located in a particularly affluent area in town will be forced to realize, understand and then acknowledge that they have an unearned privilege because of their race. Through my pride I felt that perhaps I should give the article another read, as I’d read it so many times before.
Almost immediately I realized that the once very poignant words sounded differently than  read them before. Perhaps it was Lauryn Hill’s song “Black Rage” playing on my speakers in the background that seeped in to my subconscious. Maybe the shift represented the change in the way I saw myself, moving from a youthful Black adoptee in a largely white smaller town, to a young Black women in a large American city. Whatever the reason, my gut told me that educating students cannot simply stop with an acknowledgment about the unearned advantages that Whites have, but educators must also provide a narrative from  the opposite viewpoint and a history about what had to happen in order to allow for hierarchies and such privileges.

McIntosh’s infamous and well-written piece was published in 1989. In this 21st century, Black men and Black women are learning how to climb out of the deeply entrenched history of oppression simply while journeying through our everyday lives. By the time Black men get to their classroom, they have learned the correct way to walk the streets in order to avoid being accused of acting in a disruptive or frightening way. Black women, like myself, have exerted much work and effort in learning how to be proud being dark-skinned despite the defaming innuendos and sexual objectification of African-American females.  This readily backed-up fact is a far cry from Ms. McIntosh’s account on her Whiteness:

“My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture.I was taught to see myself as an individual whose moral state depended on her individual moral will.”
It seems to me that Blacks have realized that many doors open for people most certainly due to virtues bestowed upon them before their birth. Peggy’s list contained 26 indisputable facts aiding in her unearned yet, more privileged life. I have realized that for me, a Black Women, my very visible black backpack can be summed up in one undeniable truth:
Ordinary privileges cannot be had for Blacks, without a fight as this country is founded upon a widespread enslavement and systemic genocidal dispossession of my entire race.
Only once we truly understand that the U.S. history of capitalism, followed soon thereafter by racism, aids in the privileges of Whites and fuels the angst of Blacks and our uphill battle. Once this knowledge is truly assimilated will we be able to move forward with peace and understanding around the continued oppression and denigration of Blacks. Coming to this realization may not stop the bloodshed or lessen the dormant fear others have of black men, nor should it lighten the feelings of white guilt and the desires for white folks to “rescue” or adopt black children. These truths will remain. Even under the leadership of the first Black president our country has ever been bold enough to elect. Even with the hiring of the first president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts (Cheryl Boone Isaacs). Even with the first African-American female four-star admiral (Michelle J. Howard). For as long as we enthusiastically salute African-American firsts as though we are babies moving into toddler-hood, I will know that racism and Black oppression is systemic. It is my hope that the confusion around with whom is oppressing whom is banished under the cloak and facts of our history. We must know that the reason behind the oppression goes much deeper than Mike Brown ever would’ve seen had he not died an early death because of his quite visible black backpack.

“I’m Too Old To Be Adopted” -16 year old

 

Interact with me on twitter as I’ll be posting actual quotes from teens who are currently in foster care. I’ll be using the hashtag #agingout in an effort to bring awareness to the kiddos and ensure that they have support as they age out, or even better that someone may decide to adopt or seek guardianship. Everyone deserves a place to call home.

Ferguson and the Responsibility For Transracial Adoptive Parents of Black Boys

I am appalled (but not necessarily surprised) at the actions taken by Ferguson police this past week. From this horror comes a fear and curiosity of how white parents with Black sons will speak to their children about our current climate. Here’s an excerpt from my most recent piece;

How will white adoptive parents teach lessons of safety to their growing black sons?  How will they teach that it’s okay for some people to talk trash during a spirited football game, but not them?  How will they explain that daddy can walk to 7-11 with a hooded sweatshirt for some skittles, but if they want to make a midnight run to the convenience store then they need to code-switch and whistle Vivaldi as they walk with their hands in plain view in an attempt to lessen the fear from strangers who automatically perceive them as a threat.  How will a black boy learn appropriate behavior in a city like Ferguson if he grew up in a culture where he was consistently fetishized by his teachers and joyously picked first to play basketball as classmates espoused to the black athlete stereotypes?  How might a transracially adopted black child gain a healthy identity when the world that you’ve created in your home or community does not match this world we live in where the police, Congressmen Steve King, Cliven Bundy, Janelle Ambrosia, Donald Sterling (shall I go on?) don’t care if they grew up in a stable and loving adoptive family? Their skin is still black and according to some, that in and of itself is a crime.

Read my whole piece at The Lost Daughters.

Adoptee Solidarity and Post Reunion Support

At the beginning of the month I spent a few days up in the mountains with adult adoptees after candidly speaking to a couple hundred adoptive parents. Our retreat included a meditation room, art, journaling and yoga supplies, food, wine, and a graffiti wall (of course). The emphasis on self-care and the sanctuary of having an adult adoptee only space helped me to not only regain my balance after speaking engagements, but it also helped to provide a blueprint through some of the muddy waters of adoptees in post reunion after a lifetime of secrecy and wonder.

Before, during and after my recent visit with my birthmother I received texts, emails and calls from these incredible folks, acknowledging the plethora of emotions that I was feeling. The feeling of connectedness, being understood and uniquely known by others who have experienced similar trials is a long awaited gift. We may differ in our religion (or lack thereof), gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, body shape, hair color, clothing styles or any other segregating way that Americans like to section off and isolate members of society, but our adoptee status binds us together. My post-reunion sadness is palpable, but my community is strong.

Adoptee Solidarity

Below are some sweet lines about the importance of having an adoptee support system from some of my adult adoptee friends:

“Being a transracial adoptee growing up was a bitter sweet experience. I always felt unique and special, but at times I yearned to connect with others that shared my experience. As an adult, having other adult adoptees in my life has given me the validation and support that I was lacking. It is without a doubt essential to my identity development and overall happiness.” – Mariah Dixon

“What an amazing group of fellow adoptee activists at PACT camp with 98 families of adopted kids of color. I’m so grateful that these kids get to experience this great community but it’s so bittersweet and painful too. We can’t rest until women are given the support and resources they need to parent their children! Let’s redefine birth justice to include birth mothers at the forefront of our movement.” -Chinyere Oparah

“I always underestimate the power of coming together with other people who Get It. It’s healing, beautiful, moving to spend time with other adoptees. So needed.” – Susan Ito

“I appreciate the diversity in our community. So many different lived experiences with space for all of them.” – Steve Kalb

“There was something really powerful about sitting in that lounge and just being with everyone’s energy. There were times when we talked and times when we just sat and I needed all of that!” – Katie Wynen

“Being and sharing with other trans-racial adoptees is absolutely CRUCIAL to creating a counter-narrative to the negative and oppressive internalized messaging of not being perfect, good enough or less than on so many levels…race, family structure, birth order, gender identity and sexual orientation to name a few.” -Amy Cipolla-Stickles

Anticipating My Birthmother’s Visit

Tomorrow my birthmother will be in town. Last night I watched Rain Man. Today I clearly see the correlation between these two happenings.

This poem used to served as my desperate plea:

“I wish I could turn away and move on with my life

but my heart won’t allow it when I try

That sounds so weak coming from me

a woman who overcame extreme adversities

If you don’t want me to find you

whatever the reason may be

do me a favor and sign up to the registry

Send me a few pictures, a reason, and my medical history

give me some closure and set me free.”

I used to wish that I could turn away from this search and reunion madness and move on with my life. I used to wish that I didn’t need to fulfill this selfish curiosity of learning more about my roots. I waited for the magical moment when her name would match up with mine on the registry. I thought – if only I could see what she looks like, if only! Now I no longer need to fantasize, or try to wish away intrinsic desires. Now, I can simply ask her all of the 26 years of pent up questions.

While watching Rain Man last night, Charlie (Tom Cruise) attempted to convince his brother Raymond’s court appointed psychiatrist that he should have legal custody of his brother so they could be together, as a family. Charlie said “I just don’t understand. Why didn’t dad tell me I had a brother? Why didn’t anyone ever tell me that I had a brother? Because it’d have been nice to know him for more than just the past six days.”  This statement cut to my core as Charlie no longer cared about the lure of a multi-million dollar inheritance, or his limited understanding his brother’s autism or the extraordinary differences between his own self-centered living in Los Angeles and his brother’s confined reality within the walls of the mental institution. He simply wanted to be with his brother. I’d imagine many adoptees can understand the beauty in seeing this seemingly incompatible duo spend these six days together.

I echo these thoughts of the convoluted and difficult to understand relationship. I find it to be superbly beautiful, uniquely refreshing and a clear definition of family. With all the differences between myself and my birth mother I nervously/contentedly await her arrival tomorrow, and look forward to allowing her to spend a few days with my family and I, AKA, her new family.

We Need More Foster Parents! Why Not You?

If my foster mother’s scent was bottled up in a jar, unlabeled amongst five other unlabeled scents, I’d pick hers out in an instant. I knew her smell, and when we hugged, those preverbal memories imprinted somewhere within my body came flooding back. I had spent so much energy over the years fantasizing about how I would feel when meeting my birth parents, that I largely overlooked the significance of this reunion. One hug with my foster mother felt like a missing puzzle piece being snapped into place.

Read the rest of my piece on the Dave Thomas Foundation website.