An Indian Adoptee Reclaims His Voice in the Desi Diaspora
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Even If I Could Find my Birthmother – Fear Prevents Me

November 9, 2017

For most of my life, I’ve said I am fine without knowing my birth/first mother. That is untrue.

The reality is somewhere in the middle. Pondering my roots is not keeping me awake at night, but I do wonder about my beginnings more often than I’ve previously admitted.

I am curious to know anything about my biological family. But I’m unwilling to sacrifice the enormous amount of time, energy, and emotional labor to find them.

My Birth Hospital Kerala

As a speaker and writer in the adoption space for nearly a decade, the birthmother quest is one of the triumvirates of the international adoption arena. The other ones are: Have you returned to your birth country? And how was adoption discussed in your house growing up?

People consistently ask if I’ve met my birthmother, or hope to find her. I’m 38 years old and terrified to search.

The woman who raised me and who I call ‘Mom’ is one of my best friends. I love her immensely and cannot imagine any mother loving me more than she does.

I wonder about my first mother sometimes, but searching for and finding her is a scary thought. The woman who birthed me has been absent from my life for almost its entirety.

Finding my biological mother requires sifting through reams of historical records because the only identifying information in my passport is one name;

Joseph.

There is no last name or middle name. The address recorded is the foundling home where I lived until adoption. My adoptive Dad is listed as my ‘Father.’ No records exist about my biological father.

How could I search using such paltry information? Any birth record, if a hospital kept them, would be in my native tongue, Malayalam. Examining the logistics involved (staying long-term, finding readers of Malayalam and good English speakers, to direct me, ask questions etc.) would be a supremely daunting task.

Kerala is the size of Switzerland with a population of 35 million people.

My parent’s feelings would not be hurt if I searched. If I sought her, they would not see my wish to find her as a threat. Their attitude would be the opposite. I’m sure they would encourage me, support my quest and ask many questions during the process. They’ve always worked creating an emotionally healthy and transparent adoption experience for me and my siblings.

Once, I had a ‘birthmother’ hole that I longed to fill. I still do, but the void has lessened with my daughter Sonali’s birth. I don’t feel a gnawing for a biological connection anymore.

For much of my life, I pretended that I didn’t care.

But that was insincere. I respect my birthmother and wish her the best, wherever she might be. I think about her on Mother’s Day, my birthday and my adoption anniversary.

But I have no idea what I’d say to her if we actually met. When I run through the possible scenarios in my mind, some meetings are horrible and others are wonderful.

We could have a beautiful reunion. It’s possible we would get along splendidly, both respecting boundaries, developing a deep and lasting relationship. We might be able to ‘make-up’ for the lost lifetime away from one another.

Or it could be dreadful.

What if she does not want to know anything about me? Maybe she’d resent me for inserting myself back into her life. Possibly she’d reject me as an adult, cursing me for finding her. She might begrudge my American life, constantly ask for money, and use my position as her child to gain emotional leverage over me. These are not outlandish reunion scenarios. I’ve heard of them happening to other adoptees.

I’ll never know what the exact storyline might be.

Thinking about the added drama knowing my past would bring into my life is intimidating. Through much of my existence, I’ve viewed meeting my biological mother as a cost-benefit analysis. Would I gain as much finding her, as I would potentially give up by having my life upended so viscerally?

The answer for me is a resounding no. It’s too jarring and I’ll just live without knowing.

For many adoptees, finding their birth mother or father is of paramount importance. I’m still exploring how important it is for me.

I waffle about wanting to know my origins and I don’t know where I would begin. If I could salve the wound in my life, forever answering the missing part of my narrative I’d think about it. But finding her would be nearly impossible.

I visited the hospital of my birth in 2011. It was a powerful emotional experience.

It was the closest I’ll ever be to my birth mother and I am coming to peace with that.

I saw the adoption epic Lion. I was underwhelmed.

August 28, 2017

I put off watching Lion for months now, afraid it would be too emotional for me. I’d built it up, heard so many other adoptees and non-adopted folks gush about it, say how gut wrenching it was and how I ‘had’ to see it.

Purposely, I stayed away from all reviews of it and only knew it was a true story. I was excited to watch it as an Indian adoptee.

Saroo Brierley is the main character (played by Dev Patel) and his story has similarities to mine. An adopted Indian kid, raised outside of India, by a white family and he seems well-adjusted.

Finally, an adoption story about India, not Korea, Russia or China. And it was critically acclaimed as well, nominated for six Academy awards.

Here in front of millions of people, the actors would voice struggles and thoughts about identity, loss, and culture, that myself and other international adoptees have ourselves.

We’d receive validation. People would see Saroo’s difficulties and hear the same ones I’ve had my whole life as well.

That’s what I thought about before I saw it. I was disenchanted.

Yes, I loved the movie. I thought it was fantastic. I’d recommend you see it if you haven’t. And I’m glad I watched it.

But, emotionally, there was something missing for me. Even as I type this, I’m trying to ‘will’ a sentimental response to the movie and I can’t. I’m numb.

I hesitate writing that because it feels like a betrayal of the adoptee experience. I can only imagine what people would say, if I, as an adopted Indian guy said I hated the movie. The backlash would be intense.

My divergence with the majority of the adoptee community about Lion doesn’t invalidate my opinion. I haven’t lost my influence (whatever I have) as an adoptee speaking about my story and thoughts as a person adopted internationally.

That surfaces another problem with the adoptee community; we aren’t monolithic in thoughts or deeds. But there is an unwritten code that says we should all agree on certain things. For example, some adoptees are vocal about non-adoptees seeing them all as one, but yet when an adoptee themselves voices a different opinion they can be ostracized. The hypocrisy is not lost on me.

I must be one of the only people who viewed it without tears.

Even now, writing this, I’m not sure what to say about it, but I’ll try.

1) It’s a lovely film. The story is heart-wrenching and beautiful. The acting is top-notch. Dev Patel has never been better and Nicole Kidman, who plays his adoptive mother is wonderful as well. That it’s a true story makes it more compelling.

2) The adoption experience for me, as one adopted as an infant, is much different from Saroo. I cannot imagine leaving the world that I actually knew, familiar with its sounds, sites, smells, people and culture and being adopted when I was six or seven years old. I left India before I could walk. While the sounds of Malayalam were familiar to me on a basic level, leaving India was not the upheaval for me, as it was for Saroo.

3) The images and scenes which resonated the most for me had nothing to do with adoption, but more the life of poverty and squalor depicted in the film. That surprised me. I thought for sure the lines about ‘my real parents’ and others regarding the adoption experience would tug the most at my heart, but that wasn’t the case. I was more drawn to the downtrodden, marginalized and exploited, the scenes of hopelessness and despair aroused emotions for me.

The problem about the film is this; for me, a movie is truly amazing, if it evokes an emotional response. But Lion didn’t do that.

I’m going to watch it again and see if this changes, but I doubt it will. I also judge a film’s greatness by how much I’m thinking about it immediately after watching and then the days afterward.

Again, it didn’t pass this test either. I didn’t consciously think about it, except for realizing that I should write a blog post about not having feelings.

My mind was not rehashing scenes that I observed. The movie didn’t invade my thoughts as others have, where I could not stop thinking about it.

None of that happened with Lion and I’m unsure why.

India’s Newest President is Dalit.

July 31, 2017

His name is Ram Nath Kovind and he’s Dalit (formerly known as untouchable). You may read that he’s Dalit, viewing his election as a great sign of progress against caste oppression. Here, you say, is an example of someone from the bottom of India’s development ladder. Now, he’s the President of the world’s largest democracy.

Flag of the President of India (Historical)

His election is important, but it’s definitely not a sign of less caste discrimination or violence.

Here are some quick thoughts about what this means for India and Dalits.

The Indian media made a big deal about him as a Dalit. It’s true he was raised in impoverished circumstances. He mentioned his humble beginnings during his acceptance speech, but he’s quite far from that life today. Prior to his election, he was in India’s Upper House of Parliament.

While he may rightly call himself a ‘Dalit,’ he’s not a suffering Dalit, as many are. Rather he’s an educated and savvy political operator. Don’t count on him to rebuke casteism and discrimination. He’s far removed from that world.

India’s ruling party, the ultra-nationalistic Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister shrewdly put forth Kovind as a presidential candidate. With him as President, Hindutva’s (hardline Hindu mindset) government influence, increasingly strong, won’t receive opposition from the President’s office.

The BJP party brilliantly choose this man to be the President because though he’s a Dalit, he’s well indoctrinated in Hindutva’s mindsets and approaches. He espouses them himself.

But, and this is important, the BJP needs the voting block of Indian Dalits.

Their votes are especially crucial in its poorest states, like Bihar (where Kovind hails from) to continue their onslaught against religious pluralism, while enshrining Hinduism as the state religion.

Since he’s a Dalit, Dalits are reticent to fight against one of their own, even if they aren’t always of the same mind ideologically. They’ll spar in private, but are historically too downtrodden to turn against one another, denigrating someone from their sub-caste in public.

The spokesman for the BJP, Amit Shah, and Modi know this. They can rely on Kovind’s tacit ‘blessing’ of their machinations, bringing Dalit votes for BJP candidates throughout India.

Modi essentially ‘bought’ himself a large new constituency of the electorate. Even if what Hindutva stands for (Brahmin elites, anti-Muslim, anti-beef, against caste integration, etc.), starkly contrasts with many Dalit tenets, they are loath to reject him or his platform as President.

The Dalit community does not speak with a unified voice. But, Modi’s preaching on financial improvement plays well to educated, middle-class Dalits. They overlook his nationalistic rhetoric because he’s selling economic improvement of their lives.

The dynamic is similar to the conservative right in the US.  They tolerated Donald Trump, despite his jingoistic drivel, leading to his presidency.

Unfortunately, Kovind’s election as President signals more rubber stamping of the BJP’s dangerous views about who is a real Indian, and what that means. Meanwhile, secularism’s death spiral continues.

Joy and Isolation: My Experience as a Stay-at-Home Dad – Part II

May 20, 2017

Thanks to all who commented, shared and gave feedback on Part I. I did not realize that many stay-at-home moms felt similarly. I appreciated hearing your experiences and I’m grateful for your support as a stay-at-home dad and writer.

stay-at-home dad in the park

A local park ‘selfie’

Playgrounds are alienating. Sonali loves them. I find them intimidating and uncomfortable.

I’ve entered a women’s domain – the dynamic is similar to standing in line to get my eyebrows threaded. I am the only man there. I’m the interloper. It is the same on the playground. The women will be happily chatting, we arrive and everyone goes silent.

Playgrounds are awkward because I’m usually the only male adult during working hours. Everyone else is a nanny/au pair, mother or grandparent. Most nannies are immigrants, usually Latin American or African, speaking broken English. In our neighborhood, many moms are foreign as well, due to the nearby locations of embassies and general international environment of Washington, D.C.

It feels very cliquey to me. It’s clear many caregivers know each other, banding together in certain sections of the park. For moms that don’t appear to know anyone, they still have security in being a woman around many other women and everyone seems generally welcoming.

Talking to me was probably always going to be a struggle for the nannies and au pairs. But as a stay-at-home dad, in their world, it’s near impossible. They have their relationships and jabber away with one another in Spanish or another non-English tongue. As I observe them and guess which country they are from, I presume many come from strictly gendered societies. For them, a man does not provide childcare and if for some reason he does, it’s definitely not outside the house.

I think most of their native cultures view men as tough, relatively unemotional creatures, not guys down on their hands and knees with their toddler making funny sounds. Raising children is not a masculine way to spend time in their culture’s eyes and they might think it’s weird seeing me with Sonali.

But the moms don’t speak to me either, except to ask questions or comment about Sonali. They usually say she’s adorable and ask her age. Then the conversation dies. I ask the same about their kid(s) and then we both smile and realize we have nothing else to say. Sometimes we’ll have extended smiles and hold eye contact a second longer because we recognize we see each other daily, but no words are exchanged.

I’m not really sure how to ‘break’ in. Asking if they are from around here seems like too much of a ‘pick up line’, as a man to a woman, so I let the interaction expire. Part of me wants to seek their advice about a child-rearing issue, but then I think, what if they are one of ‘those’ parents who once they begin speaking about raising kids, never stops talking?

I’ve noticed a marked difference between my interactions with women on the playground, versus walking with Sonali in the stroller around the neighborhood.

In many instances, I’ll come to a corner waiting for a stoplight and another mother is also there with a stroller. It’s immediately a much friendlier vibe. We’ll smile, say hello and sometimes say something more. Our interaction is as brief as the park, but it feels freer and easy.

We’re outside of the boundary, (playground yard) in a public and open space.

On the playground, everyone seems on the defensive towards me, the dad. Interactions appear stilted and uncomfortable. We’re acknowledging one’s presence and our children as a social duty, but not in an overly warm way.

People discussing their children is a universal conversation starter in almost every other social interaction between strangers, yet it is not enough for me at the local park.

I was telling my friend, an African-American guy, who grew up in the white suburbs about my feelings about playgrounds and he said something interesting. “I feel the same way when I go to a barber shop and it’s all black guys. What do I talk with them about? My life is nothing like theirs and I have nothing to say to them or in common, except that we’re all black.’

I feel judged, like everyone is watching me and measuring my interactions, seeing if I’ll meet their expectations of a ‘good father’, whatever that means to them. I feel silently evaluated; am I aloof with my daughter, or engaged and attentive? I envision them saying things like ‘can’t he tell how cold she is, or see hot it is outside and he has her in that outfit, she’s that high on the swing, etc.…’

I think people scrutinize how I handle Sonali. Our neighborhood is full of high-achievers, with very specific ideas about child-raising. I’m a first-time parent. I’ve never done this before. I’m learning every day and raising Sonali with my best judgment.

When we get there, it seems as though the kids move away. Part of this is because Sonali is often the youngest child at the park, and she can’t ‘play,’ like they are. But when the kids move to the other parts of the playground, I want Sonali to join them.

While this is annoying, I understand it. I’m more concerned about Sonali. We go to the playground, specifically for her interaction and observation of other kids. If immediately after we enter the park, the kids shift, then it becomes additionally awkward because I want to follow them with Sonali, but it feels strange and I rarely do.

Now the reason, beyond just leaving the house is moot because Sonali and I are alone again, as when we’re home, but now we’re in public.

Society still assumes women do all the child rearing.

Nearly every parent resource I’ve read online targets the mother, but never the father. The gender norms of child raising seem engrained and strict. I assumed with the reality of men more involved in their children’s lives this would be different in 2017, but I see scant evidence of this.

All the blogs, the internet message boards, even the neighborhood list-serves, automatically assume that women provide childcare. And all the activities offered to stay-at-home parents are stereotypically female interests (clothing swaps, shopping, personal grooming etc.) Nothing seems gender neutral.

As much as I crave personal interaction with adults, I don’t attend parent meet-ups, because I’m certain I’d be the only man there.

Sometimes I take Sonali to baby lap time at local libraries. For those unfamiliar, it’s a half hour period for babies who aren’t walking to bounce on their caregiver’s laps and sing songs. I’m always the only father.

If another male is present, it’s nearly always a grandfather. But we don’t talk either because again, often they are immigrants or I feel judged by them.

Another aspect of this experience to briefly mention is letting go of one’s inhibitions when interacting with young kids, especially babies is crucial. You must make silly sounds or sing nonsensical songs, whatever makes them happy as you communicate in ways they’ll understand.

But I’ve found when doing so in a mixed gender setting, it’s more trying. Everyone has a public persona we present to others, but for me, it’s much more uncomfortable to be ridiculous and fun with Sonali when I’m the gender minority or token member.

Maybe I’m over-thinking this whole situation.

This time is not about me, it’s about Sonali and giving her love, comfort, and affection while educating her about the world she inhabits.

Sometimes I miss my previous life, the intellectual stimulation, the collegial atmosphere of the office, spending time with peers.

But then I remember this; no one ever said they wished they’d spent less time with their child. It’s usually the complete opposite.

This season is special and won’t last forever. In a few months, she’ll be in school and I’ll be working outside the house again. Looking back on our time together, years from now I’ll never regret it.

It’s only a segment of my life and its benefits are exponential for Sonali’s growth while solidifying our beautiful lifetime bond.

Joy and Isolation: My Experience as a Stay-at-Home Dad – Part I

April 27, 2017

I recently began the hardest and most rewarding job of my life, being a stay-at-home dad. I lost my job in March 2016 and after a year-long job search that yielded little fruit, I now watch Sonali 50 hours a week.

It’s difficult. Spending all day with an 11-month old that can’t talk, walk and requires constant stimulation is exhausting. I’ll forever appreciate just how taxing life is for full-time parents.

This article, pulling figures from the 2014 Census, shows Washington D.C. has the third lowest number of stay-at-home dads in the country. But it also says that nationwide 80% of these dads are not voluntarily staying at home. I fall into this category.

Sonali had a nanny for five months, while I received unemployment benefits, which ended late last year. It’s impossible to pay rent and childcare solely using Sasmita’s salary. In early 2017, we decided I would stay home and watch Sonali full-time and job search at night.

Our friends fully support this decision, especially ones with children. Everyone, parent or not, thinks it’s great that Sonali and I spend our days together, especially at this stage of her development. It’s the right choice, we have no doubts, but that has not made it easy.

When I meet someone new for the first time, and they ask me what I do, things get a bit awkward. The first few times I just blurted out, ‘I watch our daughter Sonali.’ But then there’s a silence as if they are waiting for me to say something more. I would smile and they responded ‘cool’ or ‘neat’ and we moved to other topics. I noticed this and now I say the same thing, but then add-on, ‘I also do business development for an international economics consultancy.’

The new addendum seems to satisfy them. But it bothers me. Why do I feel like I need to justify my role as a stay-at-home dad? I’m pretty sure when mothers say the same thing, no one thinks twice. But our society says being a full-time dad isn’t good enough. Dads have to provide more than child-care; they must have a job outside of the house. But people wouldn’t ask the same question to a woman, hear she is a full-time mom and expect her to say anything else. There’s a lot more I could say on this, but the double standard seems unfair.

As I’ve become more immersed in the day-time dad life, I’ve made a few observations.

Sonali’s first ride in a shopping cart at Costco

Our neighborhood has few stay-at-home dads. We live in a section of Washington, D.C., where most households are dual income and I rarely see dads with their children anywhere during working hours. I’m not sure I’ve seen a single full-time dad in all our walking. I only see men with children in the late afternoons or early evenings, presumably after they are home from work and school is out.

Watching Sonali and hanging out with her in this way is precious. I could write for pages about what Sonali is learning, observing and ways she’s grown in the last few months. I feel privileged to spend all this time with her. I’m friends with a lot of great parents, and this was never an option for them. It’s a sacrifice for our future, but it’s well worth it. She and I are building bonds hopefully never to be severed.

To have someone so young, relying on you for all their needs and protection is awe-inspiring and intimidating. Sonali just began crawling and we’re waiting for her first teeth to emerge. She loves watching the rain fall outside the windows and recently discovered insects, particularly ants.

I’m speaking and singing to her constantly. A few days ago, we sat in the grass for the first time together, and she was very uneasy. She immediately lunged towards me, back into the safety of my embrace with gleeful giggles.

She’s become fascinated by shadows and reflections from the sun. I constantly remind myself she is learning everything. Everything is new, compelling and interesting to her. The simplest act or object will grab her attention. She’s a total sponge, and I’m educating her in ways I never could if I only saw her for one to two hours a day working outside the house.

But, this is an incredibly isolating job. I’m a social guy, thriving on communication and good conversation. Now I spend more than 55 hours a week with someone who cannot say a single English word. It’s a huge adjustment.

Coming in Part II, I’ll discuss more thoughts on my isolation, explore how I feel I’m perceived and reveal my least favorite place to take Sonali.

Readers, what do you think, does anyone have similar experiences to share?

Adoptees Grow Up, Stop Treating Us Like Perpetual Children!

March 30, 2017

I’ve become more aware of the infantilization of adult adoptees, due to my work with the Adoptee Rights Campaign to give adoptees US Citizenship. The Adoptee Citizenship Act fills a loophole in the Child Citizenship Act of 2001, which gave all international adoptees US citizenship age 18 and younger.

A common question I receive is ‘why is there an age limit of 18 for the original bill?’ As far as I know, it’s because the CCA was championed by adoptive parents (APs) who followed a historical pattern; viewing adoptees as children and never as adults.

read more …

I Took a Privilege Walk. Here’s what I Thought.

February 27, 2017

In early February of 2017, I participated in a ‘Privilege Walk.’

It’s an exercise examining an individual’s levels of privilege or disadvantage. I had finished speaking on an adoption panel and Sue Orban, the panel moderator asked all of us to participate.

Each question requires the person to step forward or backward depending on their answer. It’s popular because it demonstrates the intermingling of privilege and benefits.

The differences are one’s people don’t think about consciously. Or are culturally ingrained and unnoticeable.

In other words, everyday advantages we don’t realize we have.

Here’s a Privilege Walk video.

The value is in both examining one’s opportunities in relationship to those around you and thinking about your own privilege. Questions are tailored specifically regarding, gender, class, sexual orientation, mental wellness, and physical ability. For our drill, the questions combined some the above, plus specific adoption-related ones.

At its conclusion, you realize, everyone experiences both privilege and marginalization. The questions are based on Peggy McIntosh’s book White Privilege: Unpacking the Knapsack.

It’s a non-confrontational method analyzing inequalities along a host of social, ethnic and cultural normative spectrums.

Everyone begins on the same line and you notice, though you may think you were similar to the person next to you, their life experiences may be starkly different.

Here are some of the questions;

  • I can choose bandages in flesh color that more or less matches my skin.
  • The culture of my ancestors was studied in elementary school.
  • I usually see members of my race and ethnic group portrayed on television in a positive light.
  • I or my ancestors made a choice to come to America.
  • I have never spent any time in a foster home, homeless, or an orphanage.
  • When I go to the doctor, I can share my family’s medical history.
  • I am aware of all my siblings.
  • I can shop in any store without fear of being followed.
  • I received vaccinations that were timely and stored properly.
  • I was born into a family with access to medical care.

For our version of this exercise, we used a game board and very small cut-outs that resembled feet which we moved up and down on a grid, all starting from the same point.

Sue asked questions about ourselves and our children or the ones people were adopting. We moved the two different feet on the ladder forward and backward according to our answers.

Since this was an adoptee panel, the purpose was viewing the privileges of the adoptive family, which their future child did not have.

I answered questions for myself and Sonali. At the end of the exercise, I saw a clear delineation between my experiences and all the privileges in her life. If Sasmita was doing the drill, the differences would be even greater.

Unfortunately, conducting it this way, I did not experience one its core objectives, seeing my privilege or marginalization compared to people next to me.

But I tasted the concept.

It was a good reflective exercise contemplating the many advantages and disadvantages I have as an Indian adoptee growing up in the United States. I am privileged because even though I’m brown-skinned, I was raised in a white, middle-class neighborhood. A lot of their privilege extends to me.

For an everyday example, take Band-Aids. I’d guess that nearly all non-minorities I know never thought about a Band-Aid’s color. But for myself and minorities, it’s always annoyed us that they don’t blend with our skin. You always know if I’m wearing a Band-Aid because it contrasts with my skin.

One drawback to the questions was their black and white nature. There was no room for a gray area. The answers to some questions are complicated. I understand the reason for the straightforward format, but it makes answering some questions more difficult.

There was a  question about wanting for food. I answered what I remember. But what I don’t know is whether I lacked food before my adoption. I could only answer from the time I was adopted and onwards.

And not all the answers have to do with privilege on their face. Some were based on proper planning or parental choices. But keep digging deeper and choice itself for many is a privilege.

Most of the benefits we receive are invisible, but they are no less powerful or helpful in our lives. The Privilege Walk drill, helped me view them afresh.

Have any of you participated in this exercise? Please share your thoughts.

If My Adoption Story is ‘Valuable’ to You, then Pay Me for Telling it.

January 28, 2017

My wife and I were driving somewhere recently and began talking about Bill and Hillary Clinton’s speaking fees, between $150,00 and $300,000 dollars. Regardless of your politics, I think we can all agree that $300,000 dollars to speak is outrageous. There probably is not a single one of you who wouldn’t take even half that amount to share their experiences and expertise. I know I would.

Of course, adoptees are not giving speeches discussing their lives as a President of the United States or the former Secretary of State and while our stories may be unique and special, let’s be honest, they are not remotely on the level of a former leader of the free world.

However, there seems to be a general principle applying to other professionals, but not adoptees; they are compensated for speaking publicly and we are usually not. read more …

A Few Welcome Changes to International Adoption Rules

November 30, 2016

In the fall of 2016, the US Department of State presented new rules regarding inter-country adoptions for those adopting foreign-born children into U.S. homes.

As an adoptee, I always advocate for greater transparency about fees and the months-long process for international adoption. Not surprisingly, adoption agencies and other stakeholders in the adoption industry decry the proposed changes because they say it will make it harder to adopt.

I think they are more concerned about the declining number of international adoptions and its affect on their bottom line.

This is not about caring for children’s welfare.

Fee Transparency

Adoption agencies have a new standard for pay scales of foreign employees involved in adoption. Previously, they were based on ‘normal pay,’ what the agencies knew about pay rates in specific countries. Now, salaries will be given based on the services the foreign adoption official actually performs.

Now, salaries will be given based on the services the foreign adoption official actually performs. I think it’s fair that salaries will not be paid arbitrarily, which was the case beforehand.

Furthermore, I think the overall costs for agencies to continue as adoption service providers (ASP) will fluctuate more. The bigger potential consequence is agencies must clearly demonstrate what work their foreign or contracted staff is doing.

Standardizing good faith information efforts

That’s my language. This means that ASP’s present further evidence and proof of effort related to discovering the child’s medical or social background.

Previously this was not standardized. The effort one agency said was ‘sufficient’ in learning as much about a child’s history as possible, was different from another agency’s.

Foreign vs Domestic Fees

Adoption agencies must clearly show which fees prospective adoptive parents are paying for domestic and foreign services. This would end a type of ‘blanket’ approval that adoptive parents sometimes are required to give below a certain threshold. It ensures every cost is known upfront.

Agencies can no longer charge any fees to prospective parents to care for a child before the finalized adoption. Agencies were previously charging adoptive parents more money ‘caring’ for a child in a specific foreign country than needed.

This eliminates the temptation for agencies to recruit children, drawing out the adoption process. Additionally, this safeguards families against spending money on children who will never be available for adoption.

Telling the real story and making the best placement  

Agencies must provide additional training on grief, loss, identity, and trauma and characteristics of successful intercountry adoptive placements. They must also have a track record of compliance with post-placement and post-adoption reporting requirements.

It will no longer be enough just to want to adopt, have the money and go through the home visits. Agencies will further explore a family’s circumstances determining their fit for intercountry adoption.

I’m not sure exactly what this entails, but I like the idea of increased due diligence about the adopting parents. Agencies may feel this is an extra burden. But I say that you must get an adoption right the first time.

Another aspect of this change will be agencies cannot make referrals or require fees for specific adoption services until and unless the parents have completed this new advanced training.

Moving forward, agencies must discuss adoption disruption and dissolution. Both issues are huge black marks on the adoption industry.  The adoption arena has long downplayed and tried ignoring them. I could write a whole post about both circumstances. Here’s a quick primer if you don’t know.

Adoption disruption is when the adoption ends before finalization, but after the child is already in the new home. This forces the child back into foster care or to another family.

Adoption dissolution occurs after finalization and means legal ties sever between the child and the parents, either voluntarily or not.  One result of this drastic step is ‘rehoming. When adoptive families put their child up for private sale in an unregulated forum. These take place on sites like Craigslist or in newspaper classifieds.

The new guidance requires adoption service providers to include information about disruption and dissolution in training and preparation programs for prospective adoptive parents. Adoption service providers will be required to give specific points of contact for support in the event an adoptive family faces difficult adjustment or other hardships, which places a permanent home for the children at risk.

In the future, agencies must inform adoptive parents about all avenues open to them if a crisis occurs, including local and state resources and educate them about legal options, as well as appropriate procedures in case a child needs placement back in the system or requires removal from their adoptive family.

We’ll see what the final updated guidance looks like after the State Department has reviewed all the public comments. In the meantime, these alterations further increase transparency in the international adoption process.

I hope some are formalized.

Adoptees Inch Closer to US Citizenship and We Need Your Help!

September 22, 2016

Thousands of intercountry adoptees lack US citizenship. But there are two bi-partisan bills, in the House and Senate that would end this travesty.

The Adoptee Rights Campaign (ARC), a coalition of adoptees and advocates launched our Family is MORE than DNA campaign!

This postcard campaign, features a picture collage of adoptive families and our goal is to send 35,000 to Congressional offices during October and November to remind them to of the bill’s importance.

acapostcardcollage-1024x682

Adoption Campaign Postcard

Please visit www.adopteerightscampaign.org and sign a postcard! You can send up to five postcards; to your two Senators, your Congressional Representative and the Chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.

We hope to get his legislation passed before the November elections and we need your help!

People across the country are filling out hardcopy postcards at events and through the online link. Visit our Facebook page to see more.

After being laid off in late March, I became more involved working with the ARC. What a learning experience it’s been and what a privilege to represent adoptees before Congressional staff.

The ARC spent the summer educating staffers about the bi-partisan Senate and House bills and their details.  For each Hill visit, we began asking staff about their familiarity with the legislation and if they had specific questions. We received a variety of responses to those two questions. Some had read the Bill, while others had worked for members heavily involved in children’s welfare, adoption or something similar and had very specific questions. Unfortunately, a few never heard of the bill, and knew nothing about it.

As expected, many Republican offices we visited equated the bill with an immigration agenda. We acknowledged that people mistakenly lumped it into the immigration debate, but we did our best to reorient it away from immigration and towards, human rights, ‘righting’ a wrong, family preservation, family values, etc. The ACA is not about letting anyone new into the country, the adoptees benefitting from it, have been here for decades and consider the US their home.

Our first Day of Action on April 21 2016 was so successful, that a few weeks later, House members drafted a companion bi-partisan Adoptee Citizenship Bill. It was exciting to know that our direct actions, advocates across the country calling their Congressional representatives and a coordinated social media campaign convinced the House advocates to officially sponsor a bill as well.

Working off the momentum of the first day of action led to another Day of Action on June 14, 2016, this time with coverage by NBC Asian America and this piece in the Huffington Post.

Let’s get citizenship for adoptees! This injustice has gone all too long.

 

 

Do you want to see the world? – Thoughts on Fatherhood

July 30, 2016

Our daughter Sonali Robyne Bryant was born on May 26, 2016. Her name means ‘golden’ in Hindi. Robyne is my mother’s name. I’m now a father.

Sonali Robyne Bryant

As I wrote about here, Sasmita and I decided not to learn our baby’s gender before birth, we both wanted the surprise. The doctors and attending nurses assumed we knew whether it was a boy or girl. We got caught up in the moment and forgot to tell everyone that we didn’t know. As they were cleaning the baby, Sasmi finally asked, is it a boy or a girl? Upon learning she was a girl, we let the joy wash over us.

Sasmita had a five-hour, uncomplicated labor. The biggest drama occurred when Sasmita crawled on the ground outside of GWU Hospital enduring a labor contraction.

Sonali is two months old, and we’re all doing great. I’m getting a modicum of sleep, usually more than Sasmita. We’re adjusting, creating routines and getting used to our new titles as Mom and Dad. I’m surviving with little sleep and reflecting on fatherhood and Sonali. read more …

Who is a ‘Real’ Indian?

May 14, 2016

Since Narendra Modi became India’s Prime Minister in May 2015, the definition of a ‘true’ Indian is a hot topic.

However, for me, people have always questioned my India bona-fides. Let me explain.

As an adoptee, raised without Indian culture on a daily basis, cultural Indians in the United States were always unsure how I fit into their world. I don’t speak any Indian languages, I attend church, the vast majority of my friends are non-Indian and my parents are white.

By any measure of a culturally engaged Indian, I was not raised as one of them. I fit none of the ‘stereotypical’ Indian roles. I am not a doctor, scientist or lawyer. I am terrible with numbers and figures. I cannot fix your computer, and I don’t engage in the conspicuous consumption and materialism that Indians in America have a reputation for.

Those were the ‘issues’ regarding my Indian identity growing up, but now the narrative shifted. Modi’s political party, the Bharatiya Janata is closely aligned with elements pushing among other things, that all Indians must be Hindu, that true Indians must hate Pakistan and Muslims and the West is destroying both India and its culture.

As a result, many diaspora Indians, and domestic Indians are considered ‘anti-national.’ Additionally, anyone distrusting big government, works with NGOs or social work programs, those who advocate for India’s Dalits, tribals and other groups considered outcasts, people who question tenets of any faith, particularly in film, books or music, all are labeled as not true Indians.

The situation has deteriorated to the point, that anyone critical of India’s policies, politicians or the established Hindu order is considered ‘un-Indian’ or ‘anti-national.’

A recent news story illustrates this case perfectly.

read more …

We don’t know if we’re having a boy or girl. In India it’s illegal to find out.

April 9, 2016

Sasmita and I decided against learning the sex of our coming baby. We do not want to cloud the joyous event, by placing expectations or hopes of a specific gender.

But there’s another reason; Sasmita is uncomfortable discovering a baby’s sex because in India it’s illegal.

Our 2016 baby shower

Prenatal sex determination testing is against Indian law.

Indian society across all levels devalues girls. As a result, the government passed a law called the Prohibition of Sex Determination Act 2003. It targets decreasing female foeticide.

Stories abound of Indian doctors and other hospital workers creating separate lists for people paying extra to discover if they are having the dreaded ‘girl child’ or a son.

Essentially, a pregnant woman arrives at a hospital or health clinic and receives typical medical checkups ensuring the baby is healthy.

But, for an illegal fee, a doctor may open a separate door to a room with a sonogram machine and there an expectant mother can learn the sex.

According to the Act, a woman agrees not to find out the baby’s gender from any gynecologist, or other health care practitioner. Many couples are so afraid that they’ll have a girl, they’ll pay this illegal fee to be sure. Then they abort it outright or kill it after birth.

read more …

‘Meet the Patels’ Dismissed India’s Complexion Shaming. That’s Unfortunate.

March 5, 2016

Sasmita and I watched the funny and sweet documentary, ‘Meet the Patels.’ But I did have one major issue with the film. It’s mockery of India’s complexion biases.

It’s a heart-warming tale about a 30-year-old Indian guy. His name is Ravi Patel and his quest (really his parents wish, but he acquiesces) to find an Indian wife. The events took place six to eight years ago. But the movie was released in 2015.

Without giving away too much, which I recommend if you are 1) Indian yourself and you want to laugh at the way your family or those you know pick spouses. 2) If you’ve always been curious about the Indian custom of arranged or semi-arranged marriages. Or 3) You’re a Patel because apparently, you all know one another as the film taught me.

It has a few funny scenes. Ravi and Geeta’s parents are hilarious on-screen.

Ravi recently broke up after dating a white girl for two years. His parents never knew the girl existed. The movie follows Ravi and his sister Geeta ( the filmmaker) crisscrossing the country and traveling internationally meeting Indian women.

Ravi lives in California but visits Toronto, New York, Chicago and a host of other places.

At each city, he goes on a couple dates with women he’s either met online or girls who receive his ‘biodata’ form.

A biodata form is a résumé of sorts that Ravi’s parents write about him to ‘market’ Ravi to daughters of friends and connections.

As far as I know, it’s a uniquely South Asian custom, and unimaginable for those who grew up in the West.

They include:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Education
  • Height
  • Caste
  • Skin complexion
  • Languages
  • Religion
  • Profession
  • Parent’s names and their occupations.

Single adult Indians do not make their own bio data forms. Most never see the ones about them. Usually, they are written by their own parents and passed around between families and informally throughout personal networks.

In addition to the biodata, Ravi joined dating sites both non-Indian, like e-Harmony, and exclusively desi like Shaadi.com (Hindi word for wedding), and Indian Matrimony.com

Ravi has a few non-Indian friends remarking on his journey and sharing thoughts about his search throughout the film. In one scene they lunch and discuss how ‘racist’ the bio data forms are. A few talk about how weird they find the question about skin complexion. They question why it’s a part of the process, and wonder why it matters if the two people like one another.

It’s a very Western way of looking at the issue because for Indians it’s a huge deal.

This is a topic that is personal for me and I’ve written about it before. The main reason is Sasmita is darker skinned. She’s suffered her entire life with the stigma and questions of self-worth so many Indian women endure. She’s told me tales about friends with darker skin still unmarried. Unfortunately, their parents were ashamed of their daughter’s skin color and couldn’t find a suitable partner for them.

Sasmita relayed a story to me about her friend who committed suicide because she believed her skin was too dark and unattractive.

That is appalling and heartbreaking.

At one point Ravi takes a comically thick Indian accent and riffs about dark-skinned girls. He talks about why they are least wanted by parents as daughters-in-law.

When this segment of the film began, I was glad the obsession with skin color was discussed. However, my satisfaction turned to disappointment because of the humor and dismissal that Ravi displayed talking about the subject.

Instead, he joins his non-Indian friends in mocking skin complexion’s importance. He begins joking and clearly has no idea how damaging the mindset is.

It is hard to overstate just how pernicious this ‘preference’ is. Indians call it ‘preference’, but it’s actually blatant racism. It’s rampant throughout India and as shown by the film, the diaspora community.

Look at Bollywood’s A-list stars, nary a one will be anything darker than a wheatish complexion. The only movies featuring darker skinned Indian girls or guys are from the Southern states.

Millions of Indian women and to a lesser degree men, spend untold amounts of money buying ‘skin lightening crème’s. These products are essentially skin bleaching agents. Advertisements for these lotions are everywhere. Indian commercials constantly tout their benefits.

In rare instances, a light-skinned actor will speak out against skin lightening cremes. Unfortunately, the majority hawk the products, making no mention of their inherent racist backgrounds and negative health effects.

Babies and Language; a Personal Story

February 20, 2016

Recently my mother and I had a conversation about infant children and language.

She was excited to see that her youngest grandson, barely one-year-old, recognized her voice. She recently returned from a trip to visit my brother’s family in Denver, Colorado and was ‘Skyping’ with them.

It was remarkable to her, she said, how much his little brain processed at one year old. Then she told a story about me at one-year-old that is one of her favorites.

A few months after my arrival in the United States in 1980, my parents and I visited an Indian couple. They were from Kerala, the Indian state where I was born, and spoke Malayalam, my birth language.

My mom and I were in another part of the house, within earshot of this couple. They both spoke Malayalam. My mom says, she never saw me turn my head faster in my life. Apparently, my head whipped around immediately at the sound. Though I could not speak the language,  I recognized the tone instantly.

Though I could not speak the language,  I recognized the tone instantly.

Sadly, a few months later, my parents and I visited this couple again. But this time I made no indication that their language was something familiar.

I relay that story because it’s both sad and amazing.

Incredible because even at that age, little babies pick up the different tones in spoken languages. Sad, because I wasn’t able to recognize my birth language less than a year later.

I’m 36 years old now and gave up speaking my native language. And frankly, I don’t consider it ‘worth’ it to learn. I have no family there, and no Keralite friends close enough either geographically or emotionally to speak with. It also would do little to bolster my job marketability.

At one point I wanted to learn Malayalam because I thought I’d become more Indian. However, I’m not involved with the South Indian community here in Washington, D.C. and barely with the Indian community at large.

Sasmita speaks Hindi and Oriya, not Malayalam so it wouldn’t make sense from that standpoint either.

As fatherhood looms, I’m thinking a lot of about language, and how my child will be greatly advantaged because Sasmita is a polyglot.

She’s already told me that she will teach our child both her native language Oriya and Hindi. Maybe I’ll try to learn either language when our child’s formally learning.

You may wonder what Malayalam sounds like, here’s a clip. I cannot imagine speaking this language at my stage of life.

I’ll impart other knowledge to my child, and leave the foreign languages to Sasmita. Or maybe I’ll be the one who teaches them ‘pig latin.’