deep grief

I woke up at 3:30am yesterday morning, Veteran’s Day. I tried to get back to sleep, but my mind was wandering. I couldn’t shake what I can only describe as sorrow. I have to say that most of the time, sorrow follows me. It’s just kinda right there, right on the edge of consciousness. For days, maybe weeks, I have been thinking about our first dog, Peppermint, our adorable miniature dachshund. We had to say good-bye to her four years ago. What was not obvious to us back then was the amount of suffering Peppermint was experiencing due to arthritis and a sensitive back. She had become aggressive over the years, but I didn’t connect the dots. I’ll talk more about that later.

On the morning we said good-bye, Peppermint could no longer walk and wasn’t eating, though she seemed oriented. The day before, I knew she wasn’t well. My husband insisted “it was time.” I felt so helpless. Peppermint usually slept in her crate, but knowing it was difficult for her to move, I put her little dog bed right next to me so that I could check on her. I was worried sick and knew she was declining. At my husband’s urging, we took her to the veterinarian the next morning. My heart was so heavy. I tried desperately to keep my emotions in check to ease Peppermint’s anxiety. She always hated going to the vet.

We left the vet that morning without Peppermint. The days and weeks that followed were tortuous. It was the first time ever in my life that I couldn’t bear to listen to music. Peppermint loved music and used to lie on the back of the couch listening and sleeping while I played piano.

The clock just kept ticking, I checked the time. 4:30am. I remembered Peppermint, so many memories, and how much I missed her. There was no holding back the tears. In my grief, I began to sense strongly Pepper’s presence. She was comforting me. I could see her sweet face and tiny body. She gave me a message. Many will think it was my imagination, a means to self-soothe in the midst of grief. I think, however, that Pepper was communicating with me, letting me know she was okay and no longer suffering. It’s not the first time I’ve connected with beings that have passed, although such occurrences are rare and only come at certain times. We stayed like that till the morning light broke through. It suddenly dawned on me that Veteran’s Day, four years ago, was the day we said good-bye. Though my wake mind didn’t immediately recall this, my body did. And, It was as though Pepper was paying me a visit on the anniversary of her passing. Why this year and not last or even further back? More on that later. I told Pepper how sorry I was that I didn’t see the pain she suffered long before her last days, not only the physical pain, but emotional, too. She (like so many other dogs) experienced terrible separation anxiety that I’m afraid we failed to pay attention to. I told Pepper that I wish I’d known her suffering and done better so that she would have been better and happier. Guilt, an old friend, came a visiting, too. Pepper reassured me that it was okay.

Why does any of this matter? What I have learned in my healing journey, through therapy, meditation, and particularly through connecting with horses, is how very disconnected from my own body I have been for many, many years. Working with horses brought that to the light and into my awareness in the most profound way. Because I lacked attunement to self, it was rather difficult to be attuned to others, whether animal or human.

That lack of connection to self, shutting down of self, began early in my life, at the very beginning. Adoption, separation, emotional/psychological abuse (across my life), fear, rupture, all of it led to a disappearing of self, a disconnect. While growing up, I learned that it was not safe to speak up when I had a need, or I might get disciplined or worse, dismissed. Despair, fear, anxiety were not safe. Better to hide them. I believe that the despair I experienced as a young child was rooted in loss. Loss, too, is an old friend. I experience it acutely, the separation from a loved one (human and nonhuman) whether in real life, a movie, a book, etc., is intense. And I absolutely hate crying in front of others. Crying is a vulnerable behavior, and I realize now, feels unsafe, embarrassing, in the presence of others. When I was a little girl, I didn’t want to cry in front of my mother. She was not safe. So, when upset, I cried alone, despaired alone, coped alone.

Yesterday, I let myself be sorrowful. As I sat across from my therapist, sharing my sadness, I noticed tears welling up in her eyes, too. She said, “It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to cry; it’s good. There is healing, physiologically, when we cry. You’ve had so much sorrow and never grieved it. Instead, you buried it. It’s time to let yourself grieve…” Such sorrow and grief is heavy, but to grieve is also freeing. There are some sorrows that stay with us. They may become less vivid with time, but nevertheless remain a part of us.

I think that I was able to have that moment with Peppermint yesterday morning, to notice her presence, because I’m more connected and attuned to self than I’ve ever been, not that I’ve arrived. I learned so long ago to tune out self, to tune out intuition. She was insignificant, small, weak. Sometimes, in those moments when I feel insignificant, I take the hand of my younger self and say to her, “No! You are significant; you are resilient and strong. Don’t let any human trick you into feeling any different.” That strong, resilient, significant, and wise self is becoming more authentic by the day. Some days, I fight really hard for her and hang on tight.

So all of this has to do with connecting to self. Learning, growing, fucking it all up, healing, finding supportive others, and embracing self. But also finding peace in traveling your own journey, not someone else’s. It has taken me a very long time to know that I am good, what I believe is good, where I’m heading is good, what I want for myself is good. May you find (or continue to find) what is meaningful and good for you. And, to my dear, sweet Peppermint, thank you for sharing your unconditional love, wisdom, and care with me. You will be ever present in my heart.

the seven wonders

I’m an adopted individual. Like many adoptees, parts of my history are a fill in the blank. I reunited with my first family ten years ago. Despite what many assume, reunion does not always mean that all your questions about your early beginnings get answered. There are still many missing pieces that leave me to wonder. And there are many different reasons why pieces remain missing. Perhaps, the language barrier. And, out of respect for my first family, I don’t ask a lot of questions, as I sense that it’s distressing. I did gain answers to some of my questions. There are still voids. I will never have the opportunity to meet my first parents, as by the time I reunited with my first family, my parents had passed on. I will never know why my adoptive parents told me mistruths about my birth heritage (I learned they were mistruths), as they too have passed on. The wonders feel like a big, dark hole in my heart. I don’t sense into it often; however, I know it’s there, deep down inside. I know it can be triggered unexpectedly in moments when I feel flooded with deep loss and/or threat. So, here are seven wonders that I have around my adoption. Perhaps some of them resonate with you.

  1. Did my birth mother ever think about me? I learned from my biological sisters that our father relinquished me to an orphanage secretly. I was adopted at the age of four months from the orphanage. My sisters shared that they remembered visiting me at the babysitter’s after school, holding me and such. Then one day, I wasn’t there anymore. I wonder if my first mother mourned. Did she try to find me? How did my relinquishment impact the family once I was gone? Did she love me? As I write this, I feel that big, dark hole in my heart opening up just a little.
  2. Did I attach to my birth mother? Did she hold me, feed me, make eye contact ? Did she take care of me? Knowing what I know now about attachment, I recognize that I didn’t get a whole lot of it during my early years. I can’t recall a single time my adoptive parents ever played with me. There are pictures of them holding me, smiling for the camera, but were there moments of connection? Moments of bonding? I grew up scared most of my childhood and adolescence, so I wonder.
  3. What were my first parents like? What was my birth mother’s personality like? I learned from my bio sisters that she was a teacher and loved classical music. Was she kind? Was she loving? Are we similar in any other ways? My sisters told me that I look like our mother when she was younger, although there are no pictures left of her as a young woman. In my memoir, I tell of a time when I “saw” my first and adoptive mothers. It was during a Guided Imagery & Music (GIM-Bonny Method) training I took with some music therapy classmates years ago. It was quite emotional. I remember it like it happened yesterday. During my “traveling” experience, my birth mother told me she gave me the gift of music, and the whole experience was like my adoptive mother telling me, “I want you to know this now.” My adoptive mom purposely hid so much of my adoption history. I often wonder what my first parents were like.
  4. Why was I relinquished? On my adoption contract, which stayed hidden in my parents’ attic till after my adoptive mother’s death, it states that “the family was impoverished.” I assume that to be true according to what my bio sister’s shared. I believe that there was stress, tension, anxiety in the home of my first family. But what was the breaking point? What may have happened that led up to my going away? I wonder.
  5. Did my birth father ever regret relinquishing me, or mourn my absence? I surmise that we never bonded. He must have felt a lot of something to take me away. Was it anger, was it pressure? Did I cry a lot? Was I just another mouth to feed? Was there something wrong with me? I hear that a lot from other adoptees, perhaps not even always spoken. A deep sense of unworthiness and shame is often at the core of some of the patterns we develop later in life.
  6. What do my extended birth family members think about me now that we have met? I reunited with my extended first family on the Eve of the Lunar New Year, 2012. I met my Uncle, the patriarch of the family, a niece and nephew, and my sisters’ husbands, as well as close family friends. My two biological sisters and biological brother were also there. I spent daily time with my sisters during my entire visit, and I remember not wanting them to think that I was spoiled in any way, or had an easier life. I maintain contact with my sisters and my niece and nephew via social media. My niece is now married, and she and her husband have a little girl. I’m also connected to my brother on social media. I experienced nothing but kindness and generosity from my family. It was so special to meet them all. I often felt like I was floating. It was one of the happiest times in my life, and of course, life changing. I felt accepted, but I wonder if they too wonder about what happened.
  7. Will I ever feel like I fit in? This is the greatest challenge I’ve experienced as a result of being adopted. I’m Asian and grew up in a predominantly white community. Yes, racial teasing. Yes, racism, prejudice, microaggressions, still. Yes, tried so hard to “fit in.” Yes, rejected my cultural roots well into adulthood. Yes, it hurt. In everything I did and do today, the feeling of not fitting in is pervasive. Through therapy, I have learned skills to recognize, befriend (this is a work in progress), and cope with this deeply rooted pathway (in my brain and body). Some days, it’s overwhelming and really hard. Most people in my circle, including family and friends, don’t get it. It’s hard for them to understand or empathize. So I cope alone. Meditation, mindfulness, yoga, polyvagal theory, bottom-up regulation, and such help. But I wonder, had I been offered safe connection during my early years and adolescence, would I be different? Would I struggle less with this deep shame, people pleasing, codependency? I think, yes.

So, I wonder as I wander. I live each day in hopes that I’ll grow past my wonders. But, I think my wonders will always remain wonders. I have this hope. That perhaps I can offer support to other adoptees who have similar wonders.

ROC national day

Taiwan, The Republic of China (ROC), celebrates National Day, otherwise known as Double Ten Day, on October 10th every year. Taipei, Taiwan, is my place of birth. I was adopted as an infant by an American family, and consequently, lost all connection to Taiwan and my first/birth family. That changed, however, over the Lunar New Year of 2012, at which time I traveled to Taipei to reunite with my first family including my two older sisters and brother, my uncle, niece and nephew, and close family friends. Sadly, I know very little about Taiwan’s history and had even less knowledge of Double Ten Day . So I messaged my oldest sister to learn more about its significance. I’m so glad I did, and my sister seemed pleased that I wanted to know more about Taiwan’s history. So I share what I learned now with my fellow Taiwanese adoptees.

Double Day Ten in Mandarin is 雙十節. means double or two; means ten; means day. Here is the history of Double Ten that my sister shared with me:

The Wuchang Uprising in China occurred at the beginning of the Revolution of 1911, and the Qing Dynasty, China’s last imperial dynasty, was overthrown by Chinese revolutionaries. The Republic of China was subsequently established on January 1, 1912. Since the first day of the Wuchang Uprising occurred on October 10, 1911, October 10 is commemorated as the anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China. My sister shared that there is not as much importance attached to Double Ten Day as in years past. She remembers that, at one time, there were many activities on National Day, and the whole country was joyous. The national flag was flown all over the sky, and national flags were placed everywhere on the streets and lanes, fluttering beautifully. There was a flag-raising ceremony at the Presidential Plaza at six o’clock in the morning, and during the day, the heads of state, officials from various ministries, and invited international guests gathered in the stands to watch a military parade. The Air Force and Army presented majestic shows. It was a very popular holiday, and there were numerous performances by various groups celebrating various folk customs. What everyone looked forward to most was the fireworks at night. Colorful fireworks were placed in the square in front of the Presidential Palace, bringing on cheers and applause. Everyone enthusiastically participated in the parade, holding a small flag and walking around for a long time following the performances. My sister said that In recent years, there have been firework displays at Taipei 101 and Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. She shared that these are the memories of older generations, and the jubilance once felt as a nation on this day has diminished. Now there are different kinds of activities on Double Ten in Taiwan but it is just a holiday without the same jubilance, and few young people pay attention to its meaning.

I asked about the Double Ten flag and Taiwan’s national flag. My sister explained, our national flag is based on the blue sky with a white sun created by the revolutionary martyr, Lu Haodong, and the founding father, Sun Yat-sen, with red as the background color. The 12 rays of light on the sun represent the 12 months of the year and the 12 traditional Chinese hours in a day (each ray equals two hours). In 1928, the red and blue flag with the white sun officially became the national flag of the Republic of China. The white flag with the double ten red Chinese characters is the flag that represents Double Ten Day.

I appreciate this history lesson about Taiwan from my sister. I hope it has meaning for you, too. There is still so much to learn and know. Incidentally, my daughter’s birthday is on October 10, to which my sister said, she has lucky blessing!

privileging the voice of adoptees

Just over a week ago, the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs with the support of the U.S. Domestic Policy Council hosted a Symposium on Intercountry Adoption (ICA) in Washington DC. The purpose of the Symposium was to bring together a diverse group of ICA stakeholders in order to strengthen the future practice of intercountry adoption. Such stakeholders included professional adoption practitioners; attorneys; government officials from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of State; and Legislators as well as a number of others. Interested adoptive parents also attended, and historically, the Department invited adult adoptees as well as birth parents for the first time, as the Department’s aim was to “create a deeper understanding of the respective views and interests of each stakeholder group.” The Symposium gave a clearer comprehension of the roles of the many different governmental offices in intercountry adoption, and yet there is still much to learn about each entity and their direct roles. It became clear to me that our present system of intercountry adoption and the policies and regulations governing it are far more intricate than I imagined.

All of us care for the safety of children. All of us recognize their vulnerability. All of us want to protect them from those who would do them harm. Bringing all of us together, as this Symposium does, provides us with an opportunity to meet those goals in cooperation rather than in competition.

Carl Rische, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs

Despite moments of challenge, in the end, all agreed that safety of the children is utmost. For long now, fear, trauma, anger, and disconnect have made it extremely difficult for everyone involved to come together. I believe all members within the adoption constellation, that is birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents, have suffered tremendous loss, but those losses and how they are experienced and processed are uniquely individual. However, I’m not the first to say, adoptees have had the least voice and suffered the greatest losses, yet have the most to be learned from because of our lived experience. We all need far greater awareness and acknowledgment of the losses, fears of rejection, feelings of shame and guilt and our own processes of grief for true healing to occur. We have to hear each other’s voices and not be put off by them, find connection through difference. I experienced the Symposium as a step towards changing the current environment, an opportunity for all voices to be listened to, despite great disparity at times among different groups. All in all, if intercountry adoption is to exist and we agree that those who should “benefit” the most – the adopted child, youth, adult adoptee – then we must guarantee long-term healing, safety and permanence for the adoptee through adoption practice and policy that provides greater protections.

What Protections?

Citizenship For ALL Adoptees. Today, an estimated thousands of intercountry adoptees who were adopted by U.S. parents are without U.S. citizenship due to a loophole that exists in current legislation. They remain at risk, unable to access critical services and rights. According to 18 Million Rising, 35 intercountry adoptees have been deported with more being targeted. Current legislation (Child Citizenship Act of 2000) granted citizenship to foreign-born adoptees adopted by U.S. citizens; however, the bill did not take effect until February 27, 2001, and as a result, adoptees who were 18-years old or older at the time were not covered unbeknownst to adoptive parents and adoptees. Deportation causes another significant trauma to those adoptees. They are torn away from family and forced to live in a country where they were relinquished, where they do not speak the language, understand the culture, nor have known family. They were guaranteed a “better life,” one of permanence, and yet have been failed. The Citizenship Act of 2019 would fix the loophole in current legislation and grant automatic citizenship to all adoptees; however, the bill remains tied up in Congress. Adoptee activists continue to engage with Congressmen/women and Senators to advance this bill, yet increased and ongoing Adoptee and Ally support is needed. I urge you to support this bill, get involved by donating, volunteering and/or contacting your legislators. Learn more at Adoptees for Justice, Adoptee Rights Campaign, Adoptee Rights Law. And for a brief history of this legislation, click here.

Ethical Adoption Practices. Regulatory oversight is critical to ensuring the safety and protection of children, as we know that those who would cause harm for profit have existed under unethical adoption practices across the history of intercountry adoption. At the Symposium, adoptive parents, Adam and Jessica Davis, shared their story of adopting a five-year old girl, Namata, from Uganda only to learn a year and a half later, as Namata’s English improved, that she had a loving mommy who cared for her back home. Upon further investigation, the family learned that, indeed Namata was not an orphan. Her mother had been tricked into sending her daughter to a family in the U.S. whom she believed would provide for her education and then be later returned home. The Davis’ did a remarkable thing, eventually vacating the adoption and reuniting Namata with her mother in Uganda. This is one family who stood against those who urged them to keep Namata, despite the injustices again her mother and the abhorrent trafficking that occurred. Jessica stated in an interview with CNN.

After unveiling Namata’s true story and doing extensive research, I feel I have gained an awareness of the realities of corruption occurring across the board within international adoption. This complicated yet beautiful act of opening up a home and a heart to a child in need has become heavily corrupted by greed and saviorism.

Jessica Davis, adoptive parent and activist – quote used with permission.

The U.S. adoption agency the Davis family worked with was later debarred. This is only one story, one family, one example of unethical adoption practice, though others exist. And yet, “Harm to even one adopted child is unacceptable.” (Carl Rische, opening statement). Unregulating standards is not the answer, as some alluded to, but efforts to thoroughly investigate a child’s “orphan” status among other things must continue.

Additionally, unregulated custody transfers (UCTs), also known as rehoming, endanger the lives of adopted children. UCT’s occur when parents transfer the physical custody of their child to a person who is not the child’s parent or other adult relative, or adult friend of the family with whom the child is familiar, with the intent of permanently avoiding responsibility for the child’s care and without taking reasonable steps to ensure the child’s safety or permanency of the placement (Child Welfare Information Gateway). Children adopted through foster care and intercountry adoption are at greater risk for UCT. A recent study found challenges associated with these adoptions – the child’s complex physical and behavioral health needs and difficulties finding and, furthermore, paying for needed health services, may lead families to seek out unregulated transfers (Brown, K., Morrison, E., Hartjes, E., Nguyen, N., Sweet, A. 2015. Steps have been taken to address unregulated custody transfers of adopted children. Washington, DC: Government Accountability Office. Retrieved from http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-733). There is legislation currently pending on unregulated custody transfers.

Post-Adoption Services. At this time, there is no federal or state regulation or oversight guiding implementation of post-adoption services. Adoption service providers across the country are at their own discretion to offer such services. We heard from a number of adoptive parents who expressed great difficulty accessing needed resources and support after the finalization of adoption. Adoption service providers themselves agreed that this is the case. We know that children who are adopted are at higher risk for developing emotional, psychological, and behavioral problems as a result of disrupted attachments, trauma and identity issues, even though physically they may thrive in a safe and loving home. The emotional, psychological, and physical state of the birth mother during pregnancy also has tremendous impact on the child. The child brings all of this trauma into the adoptive family, which impacts every member of the family system, including siblings. With this knowledge comes great responsibility to help that child heal. The adoption journey really begins post-adoption. Most services are terminated at that time, yet ongoing support during the first few months and years following are critical to the healthy development and healing of the child.

Lastly, there is legislation pending related to intercountry adoption, but outcomes remain to be seen. And finally, I want to thank the Department of State for welcoming adoptees and birth parents to the Symposium and for showing support to those of us who attended. Thank you to my fellow adoptees for your passion, determination, and tireless efforts to make our voices heard. Huge thanks to Lynelle Long, who blazed the way for us to attend this event. We’ve reached a pivotal point. It is my hope that Adoptees can work alongside other stakeholders to achieve change that brings increased safety, protection, and healing to adoptees. We do need to get it right because so much is at stake, now more than ever, and the way forward is to include adoptees as part of the process.

To read Carl Rische’s introductory remarks at the Symposium in full, click here.

 

 

 

Taiwanese American cultural festival

May is winding down, and boy has it been a busy month. May is officially recognized as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Celebrations occur throughout California during the month including the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and the Taiwanese American Cultural Festival, which is held annually in the Bay area. TACF is sponsored by Taiwanese American Professionals-San Francisco and Taiwanese American Foundation-No. California. This year, TACF featured a collection of nearly 50 works by authors, writers, poets, and creatives who are Taiwanese American or have ties to Taiwan, and guess what? My book, Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity was one of the works featured! For the entire list of books showcased and brief descriptions of each book, visit Taiwaneseamerican.org.

Thank you, Ho Chie Tsai, for gathering this wonderful collection of books highlighting Taiwanese American storytellers. I wish that I could have attended the festival and seen the display in person as well as all of the other festivities. I’ve put several of the books on my to-read list.

If you’d like to purchase an autographed copy of my book, just follow this link.

Here are some photographs from the Taiwanese American Cultural Festival 2018!

Photo credit: Anna Wu Photography

 

elevate adoptee voices

Since last November, I’ve had the privilege of connecting to many other adult intercountry adoptees around the U.S. via a podcast I hosted called Global Adoptee Talk. Some participated in my podcast and others did not. Nevertheless, just to hear and share stories was incredibly validating, and I appreciate the supportive community that we’re a part of. Unfortunately, I had to let go of my podcast before it even had a real chance to get off the ground due to increasing demands at work and the lack of time and energy I had to keep up with editing/interviewing. I am always inspired, grieved, saddened, angered, and motivated by the many adoptees stories I hear – motivated primarily to elevate adoptee voices in whatever shape or form that may take. It’s always important to be mindful of the fact that though an adoptee may have had a positive adoption experience, there is still undoubtedly loss, trauma, and frequently a longing to connect to cultural roots. That may mean searching for one’s birth parents or first/birth family or traveling to one’s country of origin, learning the language, and/or connecting to others who have similar backgrounds and experiences. It doesn’t go away – it may ebb and flow across the span of an adoptee’s life, but it’s a part of our makeup; it’s part of our DNA and hard-wired into our brains, literally. I don’t have time to go into how separation from birth mother is trauma, but suffice it to say, there is research that supports it. Acknowledging that adoptees have a vital role in the future of how adoption occurs and are given a voice is crucial.

I’m bummed to let go of my podcast, but I have hopes of one day picking it back up, as time allows. I miss that connection to other adoptees. There are plenty of super podcasts out there. Two of my favorite adoptee podcasts are Adoptees On, Adapted, and Born In June Raised in April.    The Rambler was also a favorite, but the show closed earlier this year. All of these podcasts are available on iTunes – listen in – it’s totally worth it.

I sure learned a lot while producing my podcast and am super grateful for those adoptees that I had the opportunity to connect with. Adoptee voices are truly making their way to the forefront of discussions on adoption, as they should. Let us continue to build a strong and vibrant community, inclusive and respectful of all adoptees and their unique stories.

Past episodes of Global Adoptee Talk are available on Soundcloud