In conversation with ARSS

According to the Children’s Bureau, “National Adoption Month is an initiative of the Children’s Bureau with a goal to increase national awareness and bring attention to the need for permanent families for children and youth in the U.S. foster care system.” However, as an adoptee, I think it’s important to use National Adoption Month to highlight the adoptee experience.

In an effort to turn the conversation towards adoptees, and those advocating for them, I sat down with founder, Cathy, and advocate, Jessica, of Adoption Reunion Search and Support (ARSS) to talk all things adoption, advocacy, and more!

LJS: What inspired you to start ARSS?

Cathy: As an almost 60-year-old adoptee, I have come to understand all sides of the adoption triad. I started my own journey in 1978, when I was barely knowledgeable on how to search and what was available to me. During that journey, I discovered how there really wasn’t much support out there.

Since my reunion in 2000, I have volunteered my time to help others with their own personal journeys. My own search was agonizing, and I told myself after I found my birth family, I was going to help others so they wouldn’t encounter the same struggles I had – I was going to pay it forward.

I wanted to give back to the very small (at the time) adoption community, which had in its own limited way helped me a lot. From this, stemmed my passion. People, families, and lives coming together is what is important. I felt I could create a safe place for all members of the triad – meaning adoptees, adoptive families, and biological families – to find resources and help with search information that wasn’t available until very recently. This is when ARSS was born. July 2017.

Every adoptee’s journey is important. We created a space for support, for others to talk to each other, which is a valuable asset. Some adoptees never truly feel safe discussing their feelings with non-adoptees – we provide a space where they can share their feelings and be supported. I believe no matter what you find at the end of your journey, whatever your outcome may be, good or bad – it is the journey that is important. You have found something that most people take for granted – yourself. What more can any of us ask? So, my passion for helping a ‘search’, for analyzing DNA, completing adoptees families, letting someone cry out their frustrated feelings, or listen to a wonderful reunion story – is what gives me inspiration. ARSS has been a true labor of love for not only myself, but for our Angels as well. And Jessica’s unrelenting time and attention has really ignited our social media. She has really brought this Facebook, IG social world to me.

LJS: You talk a lot about the triad, can you shed more light on what that is?

Cathy: Believe Adoption.com‘s terminology of the Adoption Triad is the best way to explain,”A term used to describe the three-sided relationship that exists in an adoption between birth parents, adoptive parents and the adoptee, each of which is interrelated and interdependent on the others.”

LJS: Thanks for sharing, Cathy! Can you talk more about how the adoption community supported you throughout your search?

Cathy: The only real support I had was PA Adoption – I can’t even remember their name fully. I went to neighborhood get togethers (here in California), where adoptees would sit together and try to share what they had found since we really had nothing. Since my search was in Pennsylvania and I lived in California, I really had to rely on librarians, phone books, medical records departments (those people who were willing to answer questions, before HIPPA laws took place). These were the real heroes for me. Since then, our adoption community has grown by leaps and bounds. With the help of social media – as opposed to snail mail to libraries across the country – our community is so much bigger.

LJS: Jessica, what made you want to get involved with ARSS? What do you feel you’ve learned from the adoptee community and how do you use that knowledge to support adoptees who are searching?

Jessica: I grew up with Cathy’s son and after hearing her story I became intrigued in learning more about and from the adoptee community. I never knew the struggles – not only ethically, but emotionally – adoptees must overcome because adoptees carry their trauma throughout their lives. It has been eye opening to listen to countless stories and learn adoptees’ perspective of adoption based on their own experience. Most are so inhumane I completely support their feelings towards adoption. I can’t ever say I understand, especially since every adoptee has their own unique story, but I hope as I continue to learn I can grow as an advocate for adoptees’ voices to be heard.

LJS: What do you think is the biggest challenge adoptees face?

Cathy: The most challenging aspect of being adopted is that we are not treated the same as non-adoptees. Our obstacles are huge. The biggest of course, being that we are not allowed by law in most states to have what is rightfully ours – our unchanged original birth certificates. Now that DNA has come to the forefront, I am hoping that it will eradicate the state government’s involvement in keeping records closed. We need open records for all adoptees!

Jessica: Though I can’t speak as an adoptee, I would like to say as an advocate one of the biggest challenges adoptees face is human rights. Denied access to their own records – it is mind boggling that a human is denied access to their OWN information. As ID rules continue to change in the United States – and most states require birth certificates to obtain identification – adoptees are at an unfair disadvantage. Most states requiring birth certificates won’t even allow adoptees access to their birth certificates, so what are they supposed to do then? It is so corrupt and wrong how adoptees are denied basic rights.

LJS: For TRAs like myself, obtaining accurate documents is huge. Additionally, I’ve heard the validity of existing documents is also an issue, as the stigma of single motherhood in some countries prompts documents to be falsified to avoid public shame. Do you think our government needs to take steps to ensure access to documents, and strive to preserve the integrity of those documents, on an international level?

Cathy: Yes, of course. Obtaining accurate documents is a huge obstacle for all of us. Until we are playing by the same rules as everyone else, with respect to international adoptions, accessing our records will always be a challenge. We need undoctored records! I am not sure the government would ever strive for adoptee integrity. It will take us to help make those changes within our governments, locally and federally.

LJS: What are ARSS’s feelings about NAAM? Why?

Cathy: This is a very complicated question. It brings up a lot of personal feelings. NAAM, to me, has nothing to do with adoptees. It was created by President Obama to celebrate a month of falsehoods and lies. The non-adopted community has tried very hard to make it seem that adoptees are put into “forever homes” with loving and adoring adopted parents, but fails to acknowledge the pain, secrecy, and sometimes inhumane system failures. Adoptees are understandably offended.

Some NAAM supporters highlight the “adoptee success stories” as a way to promote more couples to adopt, but this shouldn’t be the focus of NAAM. Where are adoptees in this process? Why aren’t we celebrated? Well because, quite frankly, our voices and experiences shine a light on the corruption of the adoption industry and hit them where it truly hurts – their wallets. We don’t matter, we just cause problems for the bureaucrats. We take the ugly mask off an even uglier pig. Where is our recognition? What about the 7 million children who are already children of adopted families who are now grown adults, and who still do not have the right to their very own “Original Birth Certificate”. What about us? Why don’t WE matter?

Jessica: I agree with Cathy, it has nothing to do with adoptees but rather the adoption industry. If it truly was about adoptees, they would have the platform and the script would be flipped!

LJS: I agree that too often, the adoption narrative tends to focus on adoptive parents rather than the adoptee experience. When the adoptee’s journey is highlighted, I feel it’s always rooted in reunion. But there are other stories out there – important stories which need to be told. What can adoptees do to bring their stories to the forefront?

Cathy: We have to keep on keeping on…. keep blogging, keep tweeting, keep hashtagging. We have to keep us relevant. Unfortunately, there are way too many disturbing stories of adoption, and of adopted horrible parents. This is what needs to be told. For the few success adoption reunion stories, the successful ones, the international adoptees, good and bad – these voices all need to be heard.

Jessica: Cathy is 100% right, keep your voices going and don’t let anyone quiet you!!

LJS: What is on the horizon for ARSS?

Jessica: We hope to continue to grow our community, so we have more voices to share and learn from. Each voice that speaks is another step towards making our voices heard. We hope we can make positive changes for adoptees and adoption all together. We would love if our petition became a staple in the adoptee world and actually gained traction in opening records for all adoptees in the US! As we continue to grow, we hope we can grow the “Best Genes” program so that those unable to DNA test have the resources to make that a reality. So much has changed since we first started and we are ever evolving, we can’t wait to see what is ahead for ARSS!

Cathy: This year I felt it was most important to keep pushing our petition, #adopteesrightsmatter. The more people we can put ourselves in front of, the better for pushing our agenda for open records. We started the petition as a platform to come together and make our voices heard! We need to stand together; we need to spearhead a campaign to raise “awareness” to be part of a movement. Let’s get on our soap box. Let’s wear our “green ribbons”, let’s wear our adoptee related apparel, let’s connect with our congress members, let’s educate. Together we can make a difference. We as the adoption community, need to help in making the changes WE want, and WE need. If we all get involved, maybe we can help change the negative environment on opening our original birth certificates. This is a positive direction so that we can continue to Flip the Script!

LJS: How can someone become involved with helping in ARSS’s mission?

Cathy & Jessica: There are a number of ways to become involved with ARSS whether you want to follow our page to stay up to date or interested in becoming a Search Angel. The options are endless!! We have different support groups, petitions to be signed, guest blog opportunities, Search Angel applications and endless social media posts to interact with.

1. Help open records for all adoptees in all states by showing your support by signing the #adopteesrightsmatter petition can be found here. Give adoptees the freedom that we all deserve as humans.

2. Join one of our Facebook groups. This is a safe place for fellow members to speak amongst their peers. Whether you are a first mom or dad and/or adoptee, there is a community for you – please join!

3. Interested in helping with searches? Have experience with DNA? We could use your help as a volunteer Search Angel. If interested please visit the questionnaire so we can get to know you better here.

4. Interested in being one of our guest writers on our blog? We would love to have you and hear what topic is of interest to you! Email us if you would like to write a blog or a topic you want to see in the future.


About Adoption Reunion Search and Support (ARSS)

About Adoption Reunion Search and Support (ARSS)

We are dedicated volunteers whose hearts are big and our arms open.  We offer our combined knowledge and support for all who have been touched by adoption with assisting in searches and furthering adoptees rights.  As advocates for equal rights for adoptees, we started the hashtag #adopteesrightsmatter and a petition for change. We believe right now, it is more important than ever that we make our voices heard and make changes happen! We hope you will join us in continuing to grow the platform for adoptees to speak their truth. We always love welcoming new members to our ARSS Community!

About Cathy Thompson

About Cathy Thompson

founder of Adoption Reunion Search and Support (ARSS)

Cathy Thompson is the Founder of Adoption Reunion Search & Support (ARSS). Cathy is an adoptee, who found out at age 11, by accident from an adopted cousin. After turning the legal age of 18, Cathy embarked on her lifelong journey of searching for her biological family. Through many years of slammed doors, and unanswered phone calls, she finally connected with someone who lived in the same neighborhood as her first mother. That day was the very first time Cathy was able to speak to someone who was actually HER blood, her birth mother Anne. In August of 2000, Cathy and Anne finally met face to face. It has been 19 years since that day in 2000, when her world changed. Cathy and Anne and her 6 half siblings enjoyed the time they had together until the unfortunate and way too early passing of Anne in 2017.

ARSS has been a lifelong dream for Cathy, of being able to create a space for all in the Adoption Triad, in search and support. Cathy and her team of Angels, have been able to help hundreds of people and families to reconnect. She hopes that in the years to come more people will come to understand adoptees and their innate desire to know from where they come.  She hopes that the new wave of DNA testing will prove to be a catalyst to replace the governments hold on being the keepers of what is rightfully an adoptees identity – their original birth certificates. She hopes that one day soon, all people in this world will be treated equally and without bias.

#adopteesrightsmatter

The views and opinions expressed by Cathy and Jessica of Adoption Research Search and Support (ARSS) in this interview are those of Adoption Research Search and Support (ARSS), and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Lauren J. Sharkey.

Words Have Power

According to the Children’s Bureau, “National Adoption Month is an initiative of the Children’s Bureau with a goal to increase national awareness and bring attention to the need for permanent families for children and youth in the U.S. foster care system.” However, as an adoptee, I think it’s important to use National Adoption Month to highlight the adoptee experience. It is essential that our government not only take steps to see permanent families for potential adoptees, but to take steps toward making family preservation a priority as well as making adoption a more ethical practice.⁣⁣
⁣⁣
As an adoptee, I felt the way non-adopted people spoke to me about adoption was rooted in a false narrative which labels all adoptees as unwanted children, and furthermore promotes the idea that those who have chosen to take us in are to be regarded as our saviors. When I was younger and attempting to understand what it means to be adopted, I was confused about how I should feel. Strangers would tell me how much my biological mother must have loved me to give me up, and how generous my adoptive parents were to raise a child who wasn’t their own. I didn’t have the vocabulary to process all these emotions, and I think that has been the driving force of why I write. I’m trying to figure out exactly what it is that’s happening within, and sometimes it can be very painful.⁣⁣
⁣⁣
So, for this National Adoption Awareness Month, I’ll be doing another installment of my #WordsHavePower campaign. I’ve also added the words from previous installments:

Artwork and photography for this project was made possible by the incredibly talented, generous, and just plain beautiful soul, Martha Wasser, of Amour and Ink Paper Company.

WHAT IF

WHAT IF

As a younger adoptee, I spent a lot of time going over what ifs : what if my adoptive parents were able to conceive naturally – would I still be here? What if my biological mother is looking for me? What if there was something wrong with me? What if there was something about me that made her want to send me away? What if I went back?

What ifs are a huge part of an adoptee’s life, identity, and story.

A quote I love, and try to live by, is from Cheryl Strayed, “I’ll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”

GRATEFUL

GRATEFUL

As a young adoptee, I was constantly told how lucky I was to be adopted. Hearing this over and over again filled me with a sense of obligatory gratitude to my adoptive parents. That same gratitude gave birth to extreme guilt and fear. As a result of being told how grateful I should be to have been adopted, I felt guilty for wanting to know more about my biological parents – for acknowledging and being curious about them. I felt afraid my desire to know where I came from was going to hurt my adoptive parents, or that it meant I was being disloyal to them.

People often say, “You could have been aborted.” And while I am grateful that I wasn’t aborted, and I am grateful I was raised by such loving people, it doesn’t change the fact that adoption begins with loss on all sides of the triad. Just because some adoptees lead good and normal lives does not mean they’re not suffering, not grieving, not trying to reconcile the inherent feelings of trauma, not belonging, and self-doubt. So before you tell us we should be grateful, perhaps consider the following:

-The odds of a reported suicide attempt were 4 times greater in adoptees compared with nonadoptees. (Keyes, Margaret A et al. “Risk of suicide attempt in adopted and nonadopted offspring.” Pediatrics vol. 132,4 (2013): 639-46. doi:10.1542/peds.2012-3251)

–Nevertheless, being adopted approximately doubled the odds of having contact with a mental health professional (odds ratio [OR], 2.05; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.48-2.84) and of having a disruptive behavior disorder (OR, 2.34; 95% CI, 1.72-3.19). (Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, 75 E River Rd, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA. mkeyes@tfs.psych.umn.edu)

BLESSED

BLESSED

Being adopted means you have a permanent job is customer service. As soon as people find out you’re adopted, you are forced to suffer being asked deeply personal and invasive questions: do you ever think about finding your real parents, how old were you, is your sibling your real sibling? However, non-adoptees don’t just ask questions – they also make assumptions about the value of your life.

I’ve been told by so many people I’m blessed: blessed to have been given up, blessed to have been adopted by a loving, blessed to have “a better life”. And while this might be the truth, I don’t consider it a blessing never to have known the woman who brought me into this world. I don’t consider it a blessing that my parents endured so much struggle and had to conquer so many challenges to have a family. I do not consider it a blessing that I am constantly plagued by wondering what my life could have been were it not for this one decision someone I never knew made.This is not to say that I don’t consider the life I do have a blessing, but I’d never call myself and the trauma I have felt at adoption’s hand a blessing.

When I say this to people, they consider me to be ungrateful or they try to make me see it their way. But to deny an adoptee’s perspective of their experience is to deny them. Use this month to listen to our stories, and perhaps to change how you see us.

BETTER OFF

BETTER OFF

So many people tell adoptees how lucky we are – how we were spared the horrible lives we would have lived with our biological families and given a “better” one with our adoptive families. We’re constantly being told how “better off” we are being in America (or elsewhere), often raised without a connection to our homeland and without information essential to knowing one’s true self.

Who is to say our lives would have been better or worse? Who is to say our lives are better now? Who is to say who we might have been, what we might have done, where we would have found ourselves had it not been for this one decision we didn’t make? I ask myself these questions often, but I don’t have the answers.

I wonder if I look like the woman who gave birth to me. I wonder if the blood in our veins, and the physical resemblance that may or may not go with it, would have filled me with an inherent sense of belonging. I feel as though the inadequacy I feel as an adoptee wouldn’t be there, and perhaps I wouldn’t have found myself with bad men and the bruises they gave me. I wonder if I’d have a son or daughter now, since I wouldn’t have the overwhelming fear of unknown family medical history, and the implications my genetics could have on any life I’d bring into this world. I wonder what “better” means.

FAMILY HISTORY

FAMILY HISTORY

One of the worst things about going to the doctor is having to explain (usually more than once) that I have no family medical history. Receptionists, medical assistants, and doctors don’t seem to register that I’m not refusing to provide my medical history, but it’s that I don’t have access to it. And as a transracial adoptee, it’s unlikely I ever will.

When I was younger, this used to be a minor inconvenience – just something I needed to explain. But as I’ve gotten older, and heavier, and closer to child-bearing years, a lack of family medical history is something that has weighed on me. It’s another question in a long line of unanswerable questions. It’s an unknown, a risk…a fear.

Aside from feeling disconnected from those I love most due to lack of a genetic bond, lacking medical history makes me feel as though I am, and of, nowhere and nothing. And while there are DNA tests, genetic testing, and the like – it doesn’t make up for the fact that the person who could give me these answers isn’t here…and she never will be.

GOTCHA DAY

GOTCHA DAY

Today is the last day of my #wordshavepower campaign, and I wanted to highlight a phrase which has increased in popularity among adoptive parents.

I have the same problem with “gotcha day” that I do with the phrase “foster to adopt”, which seems derivative of “rent to own”. Gotcha Day makes me feel itemized. The phrase makes me feel like a transactional being – as though I am a possession which was acquired, not a child being welcomed into a family. Now, while I know this is not the intent of adoptive parens, I think it’s essential that consideration is given to the way we talk about adoption, especially where adoptees are concerned.

After all “Gotcha Day” isn’t going to be “Gotcha Day” to the adoptee forever. While we may spend several years enjoying celebrating this day, and the presents and cake that may go along with it, soon we may come to acknowledge this day as a day of loss. The day we truly became separated from our biological family, the day we were taken away from the country we once called home – the day when everything changed.

MOM/MOTHER

MOM/MOTHER

In the adoptee community, a lot of conversation has surrounded the vernacular. I have always referred to the woman who gave birth to me as my biological mother. In high school, I called her “BioMom” because I thought it would hurt less if she sounded like an evil robot some villain had created. Some adoptees call this woman first mother, birth mother, or other names. ⁣⁣⁣
⁣⁣⁣
But when it comes to the woman who raised me – the woman on whose shoulder I cried whenever something went wrong, the woman whose heart knows my heart – that woman is Mom. Some adoptees call this woman adoptive mother.⁣⁣⁣
⁣⁣⁣
As a community, I think we need to respect and accept the way other adoptees identify the people in their lives – whether it’s parents, partners, siblings, or otherwise. Would it be more convenient to have an “official” name designated for each person in our lives? Maybe. But the fact of the matter is all of us our different. All of us relate to these people differently, see them differently…love, hate, need them differently. ⁣⁣⁣

LUCKY

LUCKY

One of the words I hear most often from nonadoptees is lucky. People tell me I am lucky to have parents like mine, lucky to have a wonderful life…lucky to be alive. But luck has nothing to do with it.⁣

The truth is I, and so many other adoptees, were separated from the women who brought us into the world – whether it was at infancy or not long after. The truth is the trauma of that separation is something I carry with me each and every day. The truth is because of that separation, I have never looked into my mother’s face and seen my own. I have never been able to physically reflect that I belong to the most important people in my life. I have never known my motherland, its history, its love.⁣

I have, however, spent the entirety of my life wondering who I am. I have laid awake at night wondering why I was relinquished, wondering if my biological mother has ever given her thoughts to me in the 32 years since we last saw each other, wondering if my biological father knows his blood runs through my veins – blood which I will pass down to any child I carry. I have been mistaken for a separate party when going to restaurants with my parents. ⁣

People tell me I am lucky – that I have been saved and given a better life. But I cannot recall what inferior life I was living before, or who had been responsible for it. They say this as if I had escaped some unspeakable fate which would have rendered me ill, wounded, or worse. ⁣

I’ll never know about if the life I did not live would have been better or worse than the one I am living now. All I know is that “lucky” isn’t a word I’d use to identify myself, my adoptee journey, my trauma.

REAL

REAL

As an adoptee, I’m always surprised by how strangers – and I mean STRANGERS, as in people I’ve just met, people standing behind me in line, people who over hear me talking to a friend – will ask me completely invasive and deeply personal questions about my adoption. These people approach adoption casually, as if they’re asking how my summer vacation was or what I’m going to order for dinner.⁣

The first question, nine times out of ten, is, “Have you ever looked for your real parents?”.The second question I usually get is if my brother is my “real” brother. Real as opposed to what? Real as opposed to counterfeit? Real as opposed to imaginary? Real as opposed to fake?⁣

What bothers me most about the word “real” is that it suggests the love, care, and existence is somehow insufficient or lacking. “Real” implies that the only family I have ever known is somehow invalid or fraudulent.⁣

Personally, I have only ever known, needed, and loved one mother and father in my life. I have only known, needed, and loved one brother. They are not figments of my imagination, hallucinations created by my mind…they are living, breathing, real people. ⁣

Additionally, the decision whether or not to search for one’s biological relations – whether it be parents, siblings, or otherwise – is for the adoptee to share with who they wish. It’s not a conversation piece. These are our lives – respect that.⁣

⁣⁣⁣

October Update

They say winter is usually the source of blues for many people, but for me, I’m feeling a little down this fall. This is particularly strange since fall is my favorite season (which is weird considering I hate pumpkin-flavored anything). So, instead of being bummed out and unproductive, I figured I’d be bummed out and write a blog post instead lol.

 

Chicks Before Dicks

I hosted my first visitor in my new home this past weekend. My best friend Natalia made the six-hour drive from New York to spend two whole days with me and it was perfect in every way. Sometimes, you don’t realize how much you miss someone until you see them again after a long while.

One of the truest indicators of friendship, for me, is how the passage of time does or doesn’t change your relationship. Even though Natalia and I don’t talk every day, we don’t have to. When we are together, we pick up right where we left off talking about everything from work to boys to life.

When she left on Monday, I was overwhelmed by how sad I was to see her go. I know she’ll be back to visit, and that I’ll be back to Long Island after the winter, but it just reminded me there’s a part of me missing…the part I left at home.

Home Sweet Home

When I was younger, my family had this tradition of going for a bike ride in Eisenhower Park. To be honest, I hated it. My parents have always been physically fit people, and the only shape I’ve ever been in is round. It seemed no matter how much I pedaled, the bike ride was never over.

Normally, once we were actually finished, my dad would pack the bikes up and we’d head home. But once it got a little chilly outside, we took the highway to 106, parked on alongside a dirt road in Jericho, and stopped for apple cider at the Jericho Cider Mill.

I literally have to make zero effort to imagine it’s sweet yet tart taste right effing now. OMG, what I wouldn’t give for a sip! And bagels – oh how I miss bagels. So, wait till you hear this. The past few Saturdays, I’ve been working overtime from 8am to 12pm. On my way to work, I’ve noticed there is an Einstein Brothers Bagels across the street. So, on my first Saturday of OT, I headed to work early and figured I’d stop for a BEC before work.

IT WAS CLOSED! Now, granted, it’s located in the tower across the street from my building and that tower is closed on Saturdays, therefore the business is closed on Saturdays BUT COME ON. What self-respecting bagel place is closed on a Saturday? Seriously…

I also really miss Chinese food. Bryan and I have yet to locate a suitable Chinese take out place that makes decent dumplings. And don’t even get me started on pizza. Did you know they don’t quantify pizza in slices here? They’re called “cuts”. You can get a 6 cut, 8 cut…etc. Not sure who came up with that logic.

I’m beginning to see a theme here…

 

There’s No Place Like Home

Bryan has pointed out to me that I have yet to call our apartment “home”. Whenever I talk about “home” I’m always talking about Long Island. I imagine it will be that way for some time. After all, most of my family and happy memories are there.

But as the season has begun to change, I find myself to be enormously homesick. The only time I hear my parents laugh is on the phone. I put their picture on the fridge, but it’s still not the same as seeing them every day. I worry about how they’re getting on without me – particularly in the technology department, but I’m hopeful the kids down the block are quick to lend a hand.

And, as if all that isn’t enough, I was denied time off for Thanksgiving. I mean, we all have Thanksgiving Day off, but I wasn’t permitted to take any additional days outside of that. Originally, Bryan and I had bought tickets home for his brother’s wedding, which is the week before Thanksgiving. We figured since we would already be home, we should just stay the week and come back to Pittsburgh on Black Friday. Granted, I was working a different job then with more flexibility, but I didn’t anticipate it being the problem it’s turned out to be at my new job.

So, Bryan will be going home but I’ll be coming back to Pittsburgh after the wedding. Bryan wanted to come back with me but I told him to stay behind. After all, we already paid for the tickets, and Lord knows I’d want to stay home if it were me. I also couldn’t get the time off for Christmas, but at least Bryan and I will be together for that.

Even as I write this, I’m tearing up a bit. While I love our new life here, and it’s been so amazing, I wish I could have stayed closer to home. I wish we weren’t priced out by the absurdity that is the Long Island real estate market, I wish our NY salaries were enough to live on, I wish…

Mostly, I wish I could be home just for a second. I wish I could walk up my driveway, up my deck, and into the kitchen to find my mom making a meatloaf, trying to give her a hug before she tells me to get out of her kitchen, and my dad yelling about how badly The Jets suck (something that never seems to change) in the den. I wish I could go up the two flights of stairs to the attic that was my room for the past several years and run my hands along the posters I left behind. I wish I could get in my car, pick up Natalia, and drive to one of our favorite haunts with the windows down and the music up.

 

 

Sound of Pulling Heaven Down

Currently Listening to: Sound of Pulling Heaven Down, Justin Furstenfeld

I had a long list of things I always wanted to do: fall in love, travel the world, learn how to make French pastries. But only one thing was at the top of that list – publish a book.

When I got the news last April, I thought it was a dream. There were plenty of times during the draft where I wanted to give up. And in recent months, I’ve been worrying about every possible thing that can go wrong. Despite all this, though, I can’t help but be excited.

With the publication date being announced, I’ve been able to let my hair down a bit and start planning the launch event. This morning, I picked up my cell phone, scrolled not too far to find her name, and hit the number.

“The number you have dialed is not in service.”

*

In the three years since my cousin Alanna passed, I haven’t learned how to live with grief, I merely walk alongside it. I don’t always see or feel it, but I know it’s there.

There are days when I see a bakery or a store and think, “Yeah, she would have loved that.” There are days when my heart is so heavy I can barely open my eyes. But more often than not, there are days where anger burns through me like a fever. Days when I’m afraid I’ll scream at the next person who crosses my path. Days where I look to the sky and wonder what kind of god takes a 34-year-old woman to heaven before she’s had a chance to live. But today, all I could think about was my book – my dream – and who I wanted to share it with.

In the minutes leading up to the call, I chuckled to myself thinking of all the people who told me this would never happen. My high school biology teacher, Sr. Pat, who told me writing was an impractical profession. The TGI Friday’s manager who scoffed when I told him I was going back to school and reminded me I could be on the management track in a few years time. And then I thought about Alanna.

Alanna wasn’t what I’d consider to be a know-it-all, but when she absolutely believed something to be true, she was confident and not to be trifled with.

During my second year of graduate school, I was seriously considering dropping out of my program. Alanna had come to visit my grandmother, and we found ourselves talking on my deck one night.

“I just think it’s a mistake,” I said. “I mean, I’m not getting what I thought I would out of it.”

“But you’ve been writing, right?”

“Yeah, but it’s not any good. Maybe everyone’s right. If I drop out now, I can still apply for the medical coding program at Molloy…”

“You’re not doing that,” she laughed, shaking her blonde locks in disapproval. “You’re going to stay in school, write your book, and be a New York Times Bestseller, and then you’re going to come visit me more.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah,” she smiled.

The sun was going down. I can’t be sure if it was Alanna’s hair or her smile, but somehow the deck seemed brighter. I knew she was just trying to be nice, so I decided not to roll my eyes at the ridiculous fantasy she’d laid out.

“Okay,” I agreed.

*

I think of Alanna every day. I don’t know what happened today – I don’t know why I thought I could call her to make absolutely certain she’d be free on the dates I had in mind. I don’t know how I could forget…but I did. For the briefest of moments, she was here and she was alive and she was who I wanted to share this with. And then she was gone all over again.

It took me a while to pull myself together. It took me longer to sit down and write this post. And then I remembered the promise.

“I better get back inside. Am I going to see you tomorrow?”

“Yeah, I’ll be around,” I said.

“One more thing before you go, you have to promise me that when you’re all big and famous and your book is coming out that you’ll save me a seat in the front row.”

“Of course I will! What kind of question is that?”

“I’m serious, Laur. I’m not going to be able to see over everyone if I’m in the back.”

“How would you even end up in the back?”

“I don’t know, but you need to make sure I’m in the front.”

“Like I said, where else would you be?”

As I said before, I’ve spent these three years learning to walk alongside the grief I feel each and every day. But today, I feel something else. It’s not healing or happiness…I think it’s love. And all I know is I promised Alanna a seat in the front row, and a promise is a promise.

I love you, Alanna…and I miss you like crazy <3.

ECHO

Lauren J. Sharkey’s essay, ECHO, was selected as a *winner* in the Women Under Scrutiny:The (Dis)Comfort) of Our Bodies, Ourselves contest. Women Under Scrutiny, compiled by Randy Susan Meyers and edited by Nancy MacDonald, is an honest, intimate examination of the relationships we have with our bodies, hair, and faces, how we’ve been treated by the world based on our appearance—and how we have treated others. The women who created the serious, humorous, and courageous work in this anthology—women ages seventeen to seventy-six—represent an array of cultures and religions from across the United States. They are an extraordinary group of women who all share one thing: the ability to tell the truth.

EXCERPT:

It started small—having to catch my breath after going up the stairs, needing to recline my car seat back an inch…going up a size. “You might want to take some weight off,” said my general practitioner during my annual, never once lifting his eyes from the clipboard.

I looked down and surmised it wasn’t that serious. I mean, I could still see my feet. So, I did what everyone does: nothing. I mean, I told myself I would eat out less, exercise more, switch to diet soda. And I did all those things for about a week before going back to my routine of asking for extra bread at restaurants and late-night drives to Sonic. 

Read more at the Randy Susan Meyers’s website…


Purchase Women Under Scrutiny here and make a difference for women:

All profits from Women Under Scrutiny will go to Rosie’s Place in Boston, Massachusetts. Rosie’s Place was founded in 1974 as the first women’s shelter in the United States with a mission to provide a safe and nurturing environment that helps poor and homeless women maintain their dignity, seek opportunity and find security in their lives. Today, Rosie’s Place not only provides meals and shelter but also creates answers for 12,000 women a year through wide-ranging support, housing and education services.

 

Gogo

Lauren J. Sharkey’s essay, Gogo, was selected for inclusion in the Asian American Feminist Collective’s FIRST TIMES digital storytelling project. This personal essay details Sharkey’s own experience as a victim of the fetishization of Asian women.

I had a feeling Jeff was the one. He was smart, made me laugh, and didn’t mind that I hadn’t seen The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Unlike the other guys I met on OkCupid, he called me after I let him feel me up in the abandoned Sears parking lot and asked me to dinner.

Read more at the Asian American Feminist Collective’s website…

The Adoptee’s Journey is Lifelong

I discovered I was adopted on my first day of kindergarten – I was five years old. My mother had trouble getting me out of the car seat and had to run me into Mrs. Matthei’s classroom. The teacher’s aide had me take a seat at a round table where two boys asked for the identity of the woman who brought me in. They wondered why I didn’t look like her. It was the first time I noticed there were physical differences between my mother and me.

“She’s adopted,” said a girl at the table. “Your real mommy is in China but she didn’t want you, so she gave you to a lady in America who can’t make babies.”

Read the rest on Adoption RSS…

Words Have Power

As a writer, words are everything. They are currency, they are blood…they are life. As an adoptee, words are also of great importance. In my next series of posts, I’ll be highlighting words that have had an impact on me as an adoptee.⁣⁣ It’s my hope that by shining a spotlight on these words, non-adoptees will rethink and reevaluate how they speak to adoptees about adoption, and recognize the impact of their words. After all, words are power and we should always strive to use our power to help, not harm.⁣⁣

Illustrations and photography for this project were made possible by the amazing Martha Wasser of Amour Artistique. ⁣⁣

I’ll be running another Words Have Power campaign this coming November in honor of National Adoption Awareness Month.

DAY 1: MOM/MOTHER

In the adoptee community, a lot of conversation has surrounded the vernacular. I have always referred to the woman who gave birth to me as my biological mother. In high school, I called her “BioMom” because I thought it would hurt less if she sounded like an evil robot some villain had created. Some adoptees call this woman first mother, birth mother, or other names. ⁣⁣⁣
⁣⁣⁣
But when it comes to the woman who raised me – the woman on whose shoulder I cried whenever something went wrong, the woman whose heart knows my heart – that woman is Mom. Some adoptees call this woman adoptive mother.⁣⁣⁣
⁣⁣⁣
As a community, I think we need to respect and accept the way other adoptees identify the people in their lives – whether it’s parents, partners, siblings, or otherwise. Would it be more convenient to have an “official” name designated for each person in our lives? Maybe. But the fact of the matter is all of us are different. All of us relate to these people differently, see them differently…love, hate, need them differently. ⁣⁣⁣
⁣⁣

DAY 2: LUCKY

One of the words I hear most often from nonadoptees is lucky. People tell me I am lucky to have parents like mine, lucky to have a wonderful life…lucky to be alive. But luck has nothing to do with it.⁣

The truth is I, and so many other adoptees, were separated from the women who brought us into the world – whether it was at infancy or not long after. The truth is the trauma of that separation is something I carry with me each and every day. The truth is because of that separation, I have never looked into my mother’s face and seen my own. I have never been able to physically reflect that I belong to the most important people in my life. I have never known my motherland, its history, its love.⁣

I have, however, spent the entirety of my life wondering who I am. I have laid awake at night wondering why I was relinquished, wondering if my biological mother has ever given her thoughts to me in the 32 years since we last saw each other, wondering if my biological father knows his blood runs through my veins – blood which I will pass down to any child I carry. I have been mistaken for a separate party when going to restaurants with my parents. ⁣

People tell me I am lucky – that I have been saved and given a better life. But I cannot recall what inferior life I was living before, or who had been responsible for it. They say this as if I had escaped some unspeakable fate which would have rendered me ill, wounded, or worse. ⁣

I’ll never know about if the life I did not live would have been better or worse than the one I am living now. All I know is that “lucky” isn’t a word I’d use to identify myself, my adoptee journey, my trauma.

DAY 3: REAL

As an adoptee, I’m always surprised by how strangers – and I mean STRANGERS, as in people I’ve just met, people standing behind me in line, people who over hear me talking to a friend – will ask me completely invasive and deeply personal questions about my adoption. These people approach adoption casually, as if they’re asking how my summer vacation was or what I’m going to order for dinner.⁣

The first question, nine times out of ten, is, “Have you ever looked for your real parents?”.The second question I usually get is if my brother is my “real” brother. Real as opposed to what? Real as opposed to counterfeit? Real as opposed to imaginary? Real as opposed to fake?⁣

What bothers me most about the word “real” is that it suggests the love, care, and existence is somehow insufficient or lacking. “Real” implies that the only family I have ever known is somehow invalid or fraudulent.⁣

Personally, I have only ever known, needed, and loved one mother and father in my life. I have only known, needed, and loved one brother. They are not figments of my imagination, hallucinations created by my mind…they are living, breathing, real people. ⁣

Additionally, the decision whether or not to search for one’s biological relations – whether it be parents, siblings, or otherwise – is for the adoptee to share with who they wish. It’s not a conversation piece. These are our lives – respect that.⁣

In conversation with Alyssa Waugh

Reblogged from Blind Faith Books’ Official Facebook Page:

#IAMSTRENGTH #MeetTheContributors

Lauren J. Sharkey on her essay, “What All Survivors Know.”

AW: In or two sentences, what is your piece in this collection about?

LJS: When I was in college, I found myself in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship. This piece is about how one of my friends, Erin, tried to help me get out, and how I wasn’t ready to.

AW: What inspired it?

LJS: The I AM STRENGTH collection isn’t just about one women’s strength, but also about how we make each other stronger. This piece was inspired by how my friend’s strength eventually gave me the courage to leave my abuser.

AW: Female friendship is such a divine sisterhood! Why did you feel it was important to submit this?

LJS: There are so many women who share my story, who are living my story. I hope this piece sparks a conversation on how we can provide better support, resources, and education to help women get out of bad situations, and how bystanders can intervene.

AW: This issue is SO common, and the things you’re trying to call attention to are critical. Anything else particularly interesting or important about this piece you want readers to know?

LJS: I’d like readers to know help and hope are out there, but your strength will always come from within.

Preorder I AM STRENGTH: True Stories of Everyday Superwomen (e-book) here.


Lauren J. Sharkey is currently Managing Editor and Marketing & Web Development Coordinator for Kaylie Jones Books, an imprint of Akashic Books, Executive Assistant of the James Jones Writers Workshop Retreat, and Creative Nonfiction Editor at Reservoir Journal. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in Dear Adoption, and her debut novel, INCONVENIENT DAUGHTER, forthcoming in 2020, is based on her experience as a Korean American adoptee. Lauren J. Sharkey – theljsharkey@gmail.com, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: @theljsharks, Website: ljsharks.com

Crazy Rich Asians

I don’t know if it’s like this anywhere else, but on Long Island – well, white, middle-class suburban Long Island – there’s an entire culture surrounding the debate of whether to send your child to a Catholic high school, or public high school. [Read more…]

Scroll Up