Ladybug Love

ladybug-love-kat-lamons-trish-digginsLadybug Love is a collection of adoption day stories from Trish Diggings and Kat LaMons. The book introduces readers to a hundred different families and captures the moment each family was matched. Like each of the families, no two stories are alike, and it becomes evident that adoption is rarely a simple process. The book is an encouragement for waiting families, and it also serves as a guide for families who are just getting started with the adoption process in China.

Trish Diggins has been writing her whole life. She started by writing column for her small town newspaper and has spent over decade writing for Corporate America. When Trish adopted her daughter from China, she started thinking about writing something other than press releases and newsletters. Trish also started thinking about her own adoption, something she really hadn’t given much thought to. She was encouraged by Kat Lamons (who is now her writing partner) to submit an article to a national adoption magazine, which led to the idea of collecting Chinese adoption stories together. Trish admits the project was hard work, but she loved interviewing  people and hearing their stories. She says that she is “humbled and grateful for the opportunity” to have been a part of the project. Read on for our interview!

As an adoptee and adoptive parent, what do you think is the most important thing for a prospective adoptive parent to know?

As an adopted person, besides love and support and all the other things you would do for any child, it’s critical that adoptive parents are as open and honest with their child about their adoption as possible. Of course, you have to use common sense and be age-appropriate and the like, but it’s a part of your child’s life that shouldn’t be hidden or treated like something to be ashamed of. It’s not! My parents raised me to know I was adopted before I even understood what it meant, which I feel is easier on kids than having a big “surprise – guess what!” talk. As an adoptive person and parent, I would love for prospective adoptive parents to really research the ins and outs of all the adoption options. When you choose the one that’s right for your family, you may get some negative reactions from friends, family, and co-workers. That’s okay. At the end of the day, how you choose to create your family is up to you. Adopting my daughter is truly the very best thing that I’ve ever had the privilege of being part of – I could not love another human being more. She’s changed my life, my soul, and my spirit in so many ways I can’t begin to count. I am beyond blessed to be a part of her life.

When it came time for you to adopt, why did you choose China?

I put my journalistic background to good use. I did tons of research about the process, interviewed families who had completed all kinds of adoptions – closed, open, foster, international, private, researched agencies. When it came down to it, all I can really say is that down deep, I just knew that’s where she was, and my husband felt the same way.

One of the couples in the book was told that the wait for a healthy child would be seven years. Another couple almost gave up because of the amount of paperwork required.  Did you face the same wait times or obstacles with your adoption?

Yes, we did. Stacks of paperwork. We filled out paperwork that got lost and had to be redone, we renewed paperwork, we visited Homeland Security so many times I can’t remember how long we spent in the waiting room, and our adoption worker stopped doing home studies. The wait time went from a year and a half or so to nearly five – which felt like an eternity! It left me WAY too much time to decorate and redecorate her room – that kid had hand-painted linen-washed walls when she came home (like she’d care)! Sometimes, I’d get so sad seeing the prepared room with the empty crib that I’d just cry and shut the door. But we made the most of the wait – we saved, traveled, went to concerts, visited friends – which all in all, turned out to be the best thing we could have done. When she finally arrived, we were seriously ready to nest for a few years. Looking back, every hurdle and obstacle was worth it, because I cannot imagine having any other child but the one we have. She’s absolutely a perfect fit for our family, and I’d go through it all again and more.

Do you have any contact with your daughter’s biological family? Do you plan to take your daughter back to China someday?

Sadly, there are absolutely no records or information about her biological family. I’ll share with her everything I do have, as her maturity allows. We’d love to take her back to China one day – both as a heritage trip for her and because we just fell in love with the people and culture ourselves. She should experience life in other countries and cultures – her homeland, as well as others. It makes for a much more well-rounded and appreciative life, don’t you think?

Yes, travel is important for any child. Have you found ways to incorporate her culture into your daily life?

Absolutely. We have artwork and items from China around our home and in her room. She loves checking the weather every morning on my iPhone for both our town and her birth city in China. She finds it quite exciting when the weather is the same there as here! We’re members of our local Families with Children from China group and we attend social, heritage and holiday celebrations with them throughout the year. Together, we look through her “China Books” every few months (our photo books from our adoption trip), and she gets a real kick out of seeing herself as a baby in China. We have some Chinese-related adoption books we read at bedtime, too. I do think it’s important to recognize and incorporate her birth culture in our lives. But most of the time, we’re just a normal family, and she’s just a normal kid, doing the same things everyone else does – although you have to take into account I’m admittedly wildly prejudiced, as I think she’s the cutest, sweetest and most adorable kid there is!

Your book, Ladybug Love, shares 100 stories of families on their match day. Why did you choose to focus on match day as opposed to homecomings or other important milestones?

The moment that makes Match Day so special is that it’s the same miracle as it is for every parent – that first glance at your child’s face is unforgettable. For some, it’s love at first sight. For others, it’s a total and complete shock. For the rest – everything in between! There are so many emotions wrapped up in that one life changing moment, no matter how you become a parent. My writing partner, the brilliant, talented and hilarious Kat LaMons, had done a Ladybug Love book many years ago, and this book is the updated version. We loved the idea of growing the book and having it span more than a decade’s worth of stories. The adoption process has certainly changed over the years, but the magic of that special moment hasn’t.

What was the process like to collect 100 stories? Were your interviews done over the phone? Through email? What was the time frame?

We had a great start from the original book. We compiled the new stories through phone interviews, email interviews, Skype interviews, and in-person interviews. All in all, it took about a year and a half to put the final version of the book together. We’re incredibly appreciative and grateful to the families who contributed their stories, and truly hope they’re happy with the result. One family was so thrilled to be part of the book, they asked for two copies – one to read and share, and one to put in their safe deposit box! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that has anything to do with our writing – I think it has everything to do with showing how precious these stories are to the families. We’re honored to have had them be willing to open their hearts and share these amazing personal moments.

You and your writing partner Kat LaMons have another book titled “The Crunch-Time Guide to Parenting Language for Chinese Adoption.” Can you tell us a little bit about the book and why it would be helpful for prospective adoptive parents?

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Sure! Kat is still an adoption caseworker, working with families before and after they adopt. Last year, one family’s daughter came home crying. When I say crying, I mean CRYING. Bless her heart, she cried all the way through China. She cried on the plane home from China. She cried when they got home. She cried all morning, all afternoon, and almost all night. The desperate parents called Kat for help. Within four hours, the incessant crying had stopped, and they’d even gotten her to smile! How? Kat had spoken and sung to her in Chinese! She also taught the parents some phrases to use—writing everything out by hand. Kat soon found many other families with similar adjustment issues, so she continued to share words and phrases, and even a few songs. The kids seemed to adjust so much better when there was less of a language barrier. Over the past few years, there’s been a shift in Chinese adoptee demographics. For the most part, the children are at least toddler age at adoption, and parents are finding the language barrier more difficult than they had imagined. Seeing that this was a growing trend, Kat came to me wanting something beyond the sticky notes and bad copies she was giving her families. She had done the research and there just wasn’t anything out there that fit the bill. I used my design background to help make it all something neatly packaged in a colorful, user-friendly format. That’s how The Crunch Time Guide to Parenting Language for Chinese Adoption was born.

We surveyed adoptive parents for the words and phrases parents said were most desperately needed. We knew we had to include sections on family, feelings, health, safety, parent-to-child instructions, pottying, and more. My personal experience adopting from China helped too – I knew it had to be small so it could be tucked in a purse or backpack, really light, so it wouldn’t affect the baggage weight, and super-easy to use (especially when doing the new parent juggle). The best part is, each book contains a code that gives access to a website where parents can hear words, phrases, and even a couple songs. The individual files can then be downloaded to a phone or computer. For prospective adoptive parents, it means you can learn a few essentials in advance of meeting your child, but if you find yourself in a “crunch” as a new parent, you’ve got a quick, easy means of communicating. So far, we’ve gotten great feedback from parents, and we’re planning to release another Crunch-Time guide for another country later this year!

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Author, adopted person, mom, and professional designer Trish Diggins has worked in the corporate, television, web, film, and non-profit worlds creating communication and branding projects for clients across the country including New York, Chicago, Houston, and Jacksonville. She’s currently designing with Marton/Willis Creative and producing adoption-related books with Kat LaMons for Marcinson Press.

Read Trish’s blog about being an adoptee, adoptive parent, and designer at http://www.trishdiggins.com.

Find Ladybug Love at http://www.tinyurl.com/ladybuglovebook.

Find the Crunch-Time guide at http://www.tinyurl.com/crunchtimechin

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Akin to the Truth

Unknown-2Akin to the Truth is a memoir written by Paige Adams Strickland after reconnecting with her birth family. Throughout Paige’s childhood, her adoption is never kept a secret, but there is little discussion of any details. When she does ask her parents about her adoption, they tell her to “have gratitude and not fuss so much” because out of all the kids they could have chosen, she was “the one they fell in love with and picked.”

Although Paige yearns to know more about her birth family, she feels powerless to do anything about it. Afraid of being labeled an outsider or a freak, Paige keeps her adoption a secret from almost everyone.Like most adolescents, she wants to just blend in, and but as much as she tries to hide her adoption on the outside, she can’t deny it on the inside. As Paige continues to experience important milestones, the identity of her birth parents, especially her birth mother, becomes more important.

Every summer Paige and her family vacation in Florida, which eventually prompts her parents to relocate the family from Cincinnati to Saratoga. Paige says goodbye to her high school sweetheart, Scott, and enrolls at Manatee Junior College. Eventually she transfers from the Junior College to Florida State University and graduates with a degree in Multi-lingual/Multi-Cultural Education. Paige makes her way back to Cincinnati and Scott where they eventually marry, and she begins her career as a high school Spanish teacher.

The newlyweds settle into married life, and Paige sees that many of her friends around her are having babies, which makes her think about her own family and her missing pieces. With Scott’s encouragement, Paige takes the first step to getting the answers she’s always wanted. She writes the state of Ohio for her official adoption papers and begins lifting the veil that had kept her in the dark for so long.

Paige’s story helps readers understand the experience of an adoptee from childhood to adulthood. Paige never stopped yearning for the truth of who she was. Although she is at first motivated by knowing the truth more than she is finding her family, Paige finally gets the answers she was looking for. At the end of her journey, she is finally “free to walk, work, fly, or be anywhere without obsessing about who was who ever again.”

Read on for our interview!

I can relate to your avoidance of talking about your adoption, and you pretty much kept it a secret outside of a few close friends. Growing up, you wanted to take “amnesiac” breaks from your thoughts of adoption. When did you get to a point where it became natural to discuss your adoption?

It became more natural after I found birth relatives.  Then I felt I had something meaningful with honest answers to talk about.  As I met new people, I felt more at ease discussing what happened.  However, with old friends, it was still difficult to talk about because I’d been in such a habit of covering up for so many years.

Your adoption was considered closed as you had no option to contact your birth family, and the unknown information was a source of frustration for you. What are your views on the more open adoptions today?

I think if the adoptive and birth parents agree to it, it’s the best plan out there.  It’s the most honest form of adoption there is.

I cringed when you were assigned the family tree project in 7th grade. You turned in a project that was not “scientifically factual”, because admitting your adoption “was a potentially deadly move, especially in junior high school.” You also wrote that during this time “adoption made you feel like an outsider or a freak.” What would you say to a young person who is struggling with their identity because of adoption?

At some point you will have to come clean about who you are and who you might be.  For example, I knew my future husband had to know.  I would never have wanted to lie to my own children either.  If you are struggling because you aren’t satisfied with who you are or because you only know a “fall-back story” and you want more facts, then go search as much as you can.  Learn everything you possibly can. I felt that finding out who I was may have been more important than meeting the birth family.  Getting enough facts about how I started out in life was my first goal.  Meeting relatives was like getting bonus points or the game-winning grand-slam.

Towards the end of the novel, you start searching for your family. You waited until you were married and completely independent of your parents before you started searching. Do you think the timing helped or hurt your search?

Timing overall helped.  I was still a kid and would never have had the power to find and meet my birth mother.  She died too early on.  Had I procrastinated my search by more than a year, my birth mother’s former (widowed) husband would have sold the house and moved out of state.  I had one address from her death certificate.  Had he moved out of there, my letter might have come back to me, and I wouldn’t have been able to connect with my sisters.  In my case, timing was everything.

Like many families, yours had its share of secrets and lies. Did you feel any apprehension about writing a book that included some very personal details about your adoptive parents? How is your relationship with them today?

I had a lot of apprehension about writing about my adoptive parents. My Adoptive dad passed away in 1996, so I didn’t have him to deal with.  I don’t think this book would be out to the public if he were still living.  It would have been impossible unless I were to write it secretly and just wait for some day.  As for my adoptive mom, she has mixed feelings, but I made the decision to publish it and hope she would have enough understanding, like she did when I conducted my actual search.   My dad’s situation is no longer a secret, and hopefully readers will see my mom as a woman who came into her own, grew stronger and more independent because of what happened in their marriage.

How does your experience as an adoptee shape your role as a mother today?

I do the best I can to not be a “helicopter mom”, but I think I have more fears than most parents about my kids’ safety and being unintentionally exposed to harm.  My biggest fear, when they were very small and unable to speak for themselves, was that somehow,  we would become separated from one another. That may have to do with not just being adopted but because that did happen to my birth mother when she died young. I have tried to instill in both my girls a deep appreciation for their heritage(s) and who is who in our family.  My daughters are over 21 now, but I’ll never stop wanting to find enriching experiences to teach them or ways to protect them from wrong-doings. Oh, and as a pet “mom”, I adore my animals and feel for all homeless fur-babies.  I’d have a barnyard and a kennel if I had the resources!  LOL

Do you have any future projects? Will there be a follow up book?

I am in the process of compiling reflections and stories about my 30+ years in education.  It won’t be adoption-related so much.  I have thought about writing a sequel to Akin to the Truth.  Many people have asked about that, and I left the story open for that possibility.  I have written an “epilogue” of sorts, which equates to about 10 book pages, so obviously I have more work to do if I go in that direction.  My other writing related projects involve writing adoption-themed essays and entries for anthologies, which will help to promote my book and my name as an author in the adoption community.

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Paige Adam Strickland is an educator and writer and currently lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband and two daughters. You can find out more about Paige on her blog at www.akintothetruth.squarespace.com

ABC, Adoption & Me

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ABC, Adoption & Me is a children’s book written by Gayle and Casey Swift, a mother and daughter duo. Gayle is an adoptive mother, adoption coach, and foster parent. She is also the co-founder of GIFT (Growing Intentional Families Together) Family Services, an organization that offers support through adoptive coaches who are adoptive parents and certified professionals. Casey is an adoptee and a teacher who wanted to create a book “designed to support and encourage adoptees.”

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Gayle Swift

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Casey Swift

In the book, each letter of the alphabet corresponds to a particular adoption theme. Adoptive parents may be apprehensive about bringing up certain topics, and adoptees may also struggle with their feelings of loss and identity. This book provides a way to explore these issues, and it lets children know that adoption is a safe topic. Casey and Gayle have provided a valuable tool for parents and their young children to start meaningful and important dialogue about  adoption. Read on for our interview!

I like that you wrote this book with your daughter, Casey, who is adopted.  How did the idea for the book come about?

When she and her brother were growing up, we read constantly. Books of all types filled their shelves. Since we are an adoptive family, many of these books related to adoption. We noticed a huge void in the adoption literature for children.

Most titles focused on the parental point of view—how thrilled they were when they adopted the children. The stories reinforced the deep love that grew to bond them as a family. Something important was missing: the adoption experience as told from the child’s experience. Certainly, adoption provides them many blessings. Underlying that fact is a story of loss and ambivalent feelings.

ç This is perplexing to kids and they need assistance in coming to terms with it. Adoptive parents want their kids to be happy, feel firmly attached, and know they are deeply loved. One important way to do this is to be brave enough to talk about the hard parts of adoption. This ensure kids won’t have to wrestle alone with these complicated and sometimes scary thoughts.

We wanted to create a book that helped families handle this conflict in a healthy, loving and accepting way. Our book acknowledges the realities and says, yes, we have these extra threads in the fabric of our family and they all have value. ABC, Adoption & Me makes it easy to explore the complete adoption conversation and it does so with respect, honesty, and good humor. The conversations don’t have to be heavy, they just have to be authentic!

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What were some resources, if any, that helped both of you as Casey was growing up?

I recall reading many books to my children but when I asked them recently, they could not recall any specific book. Certainly, this lack of emotional resonance in the books available to them, fueled our interest in creating a book that would support adoptees and their families. I know we read: Adoption Is for Always, by Linda Walvoord, The Mulberry Bird  by  Anne Braff Brodzinsky and Why Was I Adopted?ByCarole Livingston

You are an adoption and family coach. How does being an adoptive parent equip you to better help parents in the adoption process?

It gives us empathy and credibility. We travel the same journey as the families we reach. We live adoption every day, and experience it’s many blessings and we wrestle with questions of grief and loss, identity issues and the struggle to braid together the many strands of our life stories.

Like other adoptive parents, I experienced soul-deep joy when we adopted our children. A fourteen-year eclipse had ended and once again the sun glowed in our lives. But it is essential that I not let my joy blind me to the hard parts of adoption. I want to acknowledge and support my kids so they are not left to flounder on their own. I want to be the safe harbor where they can feel protected and understood. Their gains and losses through adoption are both real.

Adoption is not a zero-sum game where kids must choose to deny their biological heritage in exchange for a loving family. They are the product of both nature and nurture and each holds importance.

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This book is helpful because it gives children ways to talk about adoption and ask questions. What are some other ways that parents can talk about adoption with young children?

Teaching moments crop up in daily living. TV programs, movies, advertisements, and literature often have storylines that center on family issues. Parents can explore them to compare and contrasts situations with their own families. It doesn’t have to be obviously connected to adoption. For example, a story about a talented athlete in a family of bookish non-athletes present an easy opening for talking about how family members can differ from one another—especially in adoptive families. Be sure to make clear that a child is valued not only for what they have in common with their adopted family but also for the ways that they are different. Their differences spice up the family and enrich it.

Seek not to be color “blind.” Instead, notice all of the colors of the human rainbow. Honor a child’s race as an integral part of who they are, like their size or eye color. Paul Griffin’s delightful illustrations portray an array of humanity. These drawings can be a great jumping off point for discussions. Notice the variety in family composition and color. Then, talk about what it might be like and how this might feel. Compare it to your own family experiences. Dare to have the awkward conversations. Your child will get the message that it is okay to have questions, complicated feelings and/or curiosity about her adoption, her birth parents and how it all fits together to shape her life. Parents can open conversations by talking about how “some” kids feel curious about a situation and then invite your child to share his view.

People often question adopted parents and kids about adoption. Perhaps they’re genuinely interested. Unfortunately, sometimes they’re just nosey. Your family is under no obligation to provide information to intrusive questions. Model good boundaries for kids. Teach them how to educate others and honor their own privacy needs. When discussing adoption in front of kids, be mindful of what and how you frame your answers. Kids will listen to your conversation and will weigh your words for content, judgment, and subtle emotions. Take the time to review these conversations later to be sure that your child hasn’t misinterpreted what you shared with others. This will ensure that they get the message that their adoption is something of which you are proud and parts of which are private.

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What encourages you about adoptions today? What work still needs to be done?

Adoption professionals are working hard to educate and raise the general “AQ” Adoption-attuned Intelligence of our culture. This means educating everyone to update old beliefs about adoption to reflect what we know about attachment, grief, loss and a respect for the reality of an adoptee’s experiences. We must let go of the old belief that viewed adoption as an event that solved a problem for birth parents, adoptive parents and a child in need of a family. People used to think birth parents and adoptees never looked back, that the severing from one family and grafting to another was painless and without lingering memories or effects.

Of course, we now realize that the truth is quite different. Adoptees and their birth parents do think about and miss one another. Adoption remains a factor throughout an adoptee’s lifetime. Like gender, height, etc, it is a permanent element in an adoptee’s identity.

Do you and Casey have any other projects planned?

We are working on a book that explores adoption from a tween’s point of view and addresses the thoughts and feelings they have at that stage.

I’ve completed a young adult novel That Baby We Borrowed. It tells a story that centers on one foster child’s journey… When a foster baby joins the Neill family after his brother is killed, thirteen-year-old Darcy, learns for some kids, “My parents will kill me,” is the truth. Will Spencer’s parents get away with murder—twice?

To find out more about Gayle Swift and her latest work visit www.gaylehswift.com

Interview with Catana Tully

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Split at the Root by Catana Tully is a memoir that spans many years and several different countries. Catana was born in Guatemala in the 1940s and was adopted by a German family. Her German mother, or “Mutti” as she called her, raised Catana to speak German, Spanish, and English and introduced her to a world of privilege, including boarding school in Jamiaca and studies at Cambridge University in England.

After Catana earned a certificate from Cambridge, her plan was to work as an interpreter in Germany. But her plan suddenly changed when she was discovered  at an international craft fair.  When Catana realized how much money she could make posing behind the camera for a few hours, she quickly enrolled in modeling school. Once Catana finished modeling school, she was immediately booked for fashion shows and landed her first acting role. Catana’s detour into modeling and acting turned out to be a successful career move.

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Catana as a model

While she was living in Munich, Catana was set up on a blind date by a friend. She met Fred Tully, an American actor, and they eventually married. When Fred and Catana welcomed a son, and the couple decided to move to California. In America, Catana had to face new issues of identity. She felt accepted by neither blacks nor whites, and her life of privilege suddenly didn’t mean anything in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Living in California, Catana began to question everything she thought she knew about herself, including her marriage and her upbringing.

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Catana and Fred

Catana started to sort out her feelings through counseling and began examining the relationships she had with both of her mothers. Her counselor encouraged Catana to find and connect with her birthfather, which answered many of Catana’s questions, but also revealed painful family secrets.  In the end, Catana became aware of the tremendous pain caused by her adoption and started to understand her identity as a mother, daughter, and black woman. Read on for our interview!

You begin Split at the Root with a picture of you as a baby with Mutti, your German “mother” and end the book with a picture of you with Rosa, your birthmother. How did these two women shape your own identity as a mother?

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Catana with “Mutti” & Rosa

Very interesting question! I don’t know about shaping my identity as a mother, but I, too, was very protective and controlling. Mutti, had been super protective of me and, until she left me in Munich, controlled all my decisions. I sometimes jokingly tell my son that he probably needs a shrink, being that he had been so closely watched as a child. But he says that it was great because he always felt very secure and protected.

So I figure this over-protectiveness came as a result of having always been under supervision myself. I must have internalized Mutti’s and Rosa’s fears. Mutti feared Rosa might steal me, and I must have somehow absorbed Rosa’s anguish at having “lost” me. So, yes, both women shaped the fear aspect that translated into the way I raised my son.

I appreciated that you included your counseling sessions. You shared valuable conversations about your healing from being raised apart from your birth mother and from the damage caused by secrets that were hidden from you growing up. Your search for identity was inspiring and showed that it can a lifelong process. What was the hardest truth you had to confront in your therapy sessions?

Another good one. I still struggle with my identity but I know it, and so am able to identify the insecurity. The good thing is that my self-image is no longer bruised. One of the hardest things was having to recover lost memories of Rosa. Another was hearing from my sisters how much my mother suffered at having lost me. Also, of course, my having rejected her in such a heartless manner. I find it is an interesting thing with adoptees: I believe we are quite insensitive. Perhaps because of the injury at having been separated from our mother.

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You described playing the role of Eliza, a slave, for the German production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. You wrote that you struggled with that role because you had no idea how to “portray an enslaved woman, had a vague idea of modern slavery, and had no Black heroes, role models, male or female.” Who are your black heroes and role models today?

Today, there are too many to count, but here are a few that come to mind immediately: Ivan van Sertima, was a history professor at Rutgers, whose books They Came Before Columbus, and Africa and Europe in the Middle Ages impress me tremendously. Then Cheikh Anta Diop’s work is fascinating to me. Among the young writers whose works I admire: Edwige Danticat, (Haitian American) and Chimamanda Adichie (Nigerian). Add… all the African American classic writers, painters, sculptors, and musicians… There are a lot!

I was fascinated with your scenes of moving to LA, and experiencing what it meant to be Black in America. You wrote that you “knew nothing about the African American culture, where being Black was infinitely more complex than simple being dark.” Why do you think being Black in America is so complex?

The complex aspect of race in America lies in the fact that the dominant American society wants it to be that way. Racism in the US is an institutionalized phenomenon. On the surface it might appear that things have improved since slavery. However, a huge percentage of the Black population continues to be excluded from what purports to be a democratic society. I mean the fact that huge numbers of young Black men are incarcerated for petty crimes that do not affect other ethnic groups. Once they are released, they continue to be ostracized for having been incarcerated and are not allowed to vote. This is clearly institutionalized racism. And, it’s a huge problem that’s just not addressed. The important ones in our society (the ones that could change the laws) seem to have a blind eye to this tragedy.

You discussed how Mutti colonized your mind. She taught you how to dress, speak, and act, and you internalized her European ideals. Do you think her colonization was intentional? Can colonization ever be unintentional?

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Mutti was a product of her times; and those were Victorian. Dark people were seen as inferior and powerless. (Has not changed that much, really.) She expected me to assimilate into European society thus, absorbing European culture, she figured (correctly,) would facilitate my inclusion into the dominant White society. (That is also what White parents of dark adoptees feel today.) What Mutti did not realize, is that had I been given access to my mother and her people, I would have gained respect for my race, understand what my family’s struggles were, respect their values, and be pleased that they were poor, yet noble people. That would have been fair, and would have helped me gain a balanced sense of self. Most important: I would not have had the damaging issues related to a bruised and negative self image.

Do you anticipate writing any other books?

I plan to write essays addressing issues adoptees grapple with that no one seems to appreciate… including adoptees. I [also] have a children’s book in mind. It’s about history. I’ll feel blessed if I can start researching for it by the end of this year!

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 Dr. Catana Tully is an author, a retired professor, and adoption counseling expert. She offers to help both parents and their children tackle the complexities of adoption. To find out more about Catana’s services or read more about Split at the Root, visit www.cantanatully.com

Interview with Jody Cantrell Dyer

In my last post, I reviewed The Eye of Adoption by Jody Cantrell Dyer, and I also had the pleasure of interviewing her. Jody is just as personable and open in her interview as she comes across in the book, and she is honest about her struggles in order to help others. Read on for the interview!

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In parts of the book you describe your various methods of trying to conceive and the obstacles you faced – did you find it hard to be so transparent?

I wrote The Eye of Adoption to help, in a real, raw, way, families who are trying to conceive or adopt. I felt that transparency was key to meeting that goal. I wanted to be approachable, flat-out honest, and believable, so I gave details. Infertility treatments can be humiliating and costly, and I felt readers would appreciate me saying so. I was concerned I would offend someone who used IVF. It simply was not a healthy option for me financially, physically, or spiritually. Financially, I would have had to gamble smart by implanting at least two embryos. That would put them at a physical disadvantage because of my clotting disorder, “bumpy” uterus, and other issues. Finally, I did not want to “wonder” about any embryos left over. (I had good, plentiful eggs, so that was a true possibility). I didn’t spell all that out in the book because every woman’s body is different and I didn’t want to come across as judgmental. I tried to describe my treatments so that other women could relate, but not question their own decisions.

 You mention MTV’s 16 and Pregnant and the movie Juno made an impact on you during your adoption journey.  Do you think media depictions of adoption are accurate? 

I think that MTV did a much better job than Juno writers did. Of course, 16 & Pregnant is a reality show, but they could have edited to control the message. I would like to have seen some stats about adoption, abortion, and open adoption in the broadcasts. So many young girls watch that show—why not give them hope through details about agencies, adoption information, etc.? Catelynn and Tyler are wonderful advocates for adoption. You can see that, though they grieve, they are healing well and moving forward in healthy ways. I sent them a copy of my book and they loved it! They Tweeted me really sweet messages, as did their social worker, Dawn. I loved Juno. I felt that Jennifer Garner did a great job of capturing the desperation and emotion and sometimes business-like approach to adoption. What wasn’t realistic was her husband’s strange affection for Juno and Juno’s parents’ cavalier attitude toward losing their grandchild. Media has so much power. Unfortunately, most media messages (particularly in the entertainment industry), gloss over the heartache and stereotype birth parents and adoptive parents.

You struggled with your inability to conceive and others’ ability to do so quite easily. At one point, you joke with your doctor that “If I’m not pregnant in six months, I’m going to start smoking. If I’m not pregnant in a year, I’m doing meth. Smokers and drug addicts get pregnant.” All jokes aside, now that you have adopted Scotty, do you feel less resentful towards pregnant women?

Not being able to conceive is an incurable, frustrating loss. To be honest, I still look at pregnant women and think, “Please be humble and grateful and modest. So many women are struggling through gut-wrenching heartache to just be normal and be mothers.” I am happy when someone I know becomes pregnant, but I don’t think I’ll ever be completely cured of the hurt of not being able to have more children. I truly think that turning 40 helped me more than anything, i.e., I feel too old to have a baby now, so I don’t want to be pregnant! Adoption doesn’t cure that loss, but adoption does cure the longing for a child.

 On the topic of infertility, you called it “traumatic” and despised advice from anyone, including the popular “Just relax and you will get pregnant.” What is the best thing to say, if anything, to a woman or couple struggling with infertility? 

Ha! Amen! Unless you are an ob/gyn or fertility specialist, simply say, “I am sorry you are having trouble conceiving.” I urge people to help those going through any struggle by doing something specific. We can pray, donate money to the cause (treatments and adoption are expensive), give a gift that demonstrates faith but won’t be too sad for the recipient (a baby blanket, a photo album, diapers, a devotional, a massage, a gift basket). Any tangible token of love would be thoughtful. Basically, women struggling with infertility can feel isolated. What we need is friends who will listen without judgment or criticism.

 Your book is unique in that it includes many different perspectives of adoption. Your husband was adopted as an infant, and you thoughtfully include his story. Along with your own narrative, you also include an interview with Scotty’s birthmother, Kerri, at the end of the novel. Why was it important for you to include the different perspectives? 

One of my goals with The Eye of Adoption is to build kinship among the adoption triad (birth family, adoptive family, adoptees). Adoption is a dynamic, extremely complex “industry” and experience for all parties. Adoption has been mishandled so many times and I don’t think the general public really understands it even know. By sharing all the different views, I could illustrate the positive and negative aspects of adoption for all of us. Kerri wanted to dispel myths and communicate hope to adoptive parents and birth parents. Adoption situations are as unique as the individuals involved in each match. It is important that families are educated so that they make right decisions for their children. It is also important that family and friends read books like mine so they can empathize with and support loved ones struggling to conceive, adopt, or place a child.

You also share emails exchanged with Scotty’s birthfather Bryant. At one point, you and your husband flew him down to visit. Are you still close to Bryant, and how do you see Scotty and Bryant’s relationship in the future? 

We feel emotionally close to Bryant, but we don’t talk with him very often. Kerri does. She shares information and pictures with him every time we get together. Bryant is hoping to visit this summer. At this point, I have no idea what Bryant and Scotty’s relationship will be. Jeff and I speak of Bryant and Kerri with love and respect, so I think Scotty will feel love and respect for him. But, Bryant lives in Pennsylvania, so I don’t think they’ll be too close. Open adoption is open-ended. We’ll have to see how Scotty’s relationships evolve. We all agree that his mental and emotional well-being are the most important concern.

For anyone considering adoption, by either placing a child or welcoming a child, what would you tell them?

To birthparents, I say “Do what your heart tells you to do.” If you want to parent, parent. If you need help, work with an agency to help you secure the resources you need to maintain a healthy pregnancy and be a successful mother or father. If you are considering adoption, read as much as you can about all types of adoption and get as much counseling as you can from social workers and pastors. Talk to other birth parents who have placed. Pray for good judgment and peace of mind. Know that you can negotiate the adoption relationship that is best for you and your child. Know that adoptive parents appreciate, love, admire, and respect you more than you can ever imagine, and that many want a continued relationship.

To adoptive parents, I say, “Do what your heart tells you to do.” Be willing to spend every dime, every moment of time, every ounce of energy, and every bit of your heart on the beautiful, burdensome, blessing of adoption. You will question, doubt, worry, and suffer. You will also gain the spiritual education of a lifetime. I think adoption is the most intentional process in the human experience. Pay attention to the miracles that happen along the way and allow yourself to grieve and heal. No matter what happens, if you want to be a parent, keep moving forward and do not give up on your dream.

Do you anticipate a follow up book or other adoption books in the future?

Kerri and I have talked about writing a book together. We’d like to write something that ministers to birth parents. My mother tagged me a “compassionate humorist” and my friends have begged me for years to write a “funny book.” I am currently writing the funny book one chapter at a time through my blog, Theories: Size 12. Basically, the posts are weekly rough drafts of chapters (my editor’s idea). I have a few ideas and projects in the works, but they may take some time to complete because I teach full time, write for a local magazine, contribute guest posts to adoption blogs all over the country, and, of course, have two busy little boys. Whew! I love to write, and definitely like writing with the purpose of inspiring others, whether that’s through emotion or humor. I am thrilled and honored when appreciative readers say that The Eye of Adoption ministered to them or that my latest Theory made them laugh out loud. I want my work to affect others in a meaningful way.

To find out more about Jody Cantrell Dyer, you can visit www.jodydyer.com