St. Johns Adoption Conference Notes

This post was written a few days ago post conference.  It has been sitting in draft stage as I feel it is disjointed and not well written. Truth be told that is what my heart feels post conference, disjointed. As such, I am going to let this post go as it is.

I am feeling very tired and unwell.  My fiance suggested this is the typical adoption conference post conference crash. I am not so sure. Generally, in years past, following speaking at a conference I feel emotionally drained, soul empty and lost.  That is not the emotional status this year.  Could my body be speaking to me or am I getting sick?

Regardless the reason, it is annoying me. I have a number of things to attend to and I also want very much to blog about the conference. This post is an attempt at the latter. It is more a list of the notes I took rather than a blog post. Bear with me.

I took the train into NYC on Thursday afternoon. Checked into the hotel room that I would be sharing with Margie/Thirdmom and waited for her arrival. Claud, my co-presenter, texted me and informed me she would be meeting us at our hotel as well. The hotel was a few short blocks from the conference location and while the room was shoebox size I found myself appreciating the location.  I also appreciated the fact that I got along well with Margie and had actually roomed at her personal residence a few years back when I spoke at the Ethic/EBD conference. Jokingly I texted Margie and told her it was a good thing I liked her. I could not imagine spending two nights with someone I did not like in such a small room.

Thursday evening, Beth Hall Quotes Dawn Friedman

PACT speaker, Beth Hall, (who was fantastic btw) featured a photo and quote from Dawn Friedman’s blog during her most excellent presentation. At the mention of Dawn a few very immature annoying attendees clapped. Tee hee. Yeah, I was one of them.  It was an excellent quote and it fully supported the points Beth was trying to make. I really enjoyed Beth Hall.

Friday a.m, The Claud and Suz Show
The birth mother session “Relinquishment Hindsight: What We Wish the Professionals Had Told Us” was scheduled for 10 am on Friday.  Unfortunately, three of the five panelists dropped out or did not make it to the conference.  I was anxious and disappointed by this but knew that Claud and I would do a good job.  We originally believed that our draw was rooted in having a panel  that represented birth mothers from the BSE (L. Dusky), closed adoptions (L. Dusky, S. Bednarz, C. D’arcy) and Open Adoptions (N. Darr and J. Hatfield.). Lacking Lorraine, Nicole and Jenna, I felt we would not be as effective.

I believe I was wrong. We had impressive attendance at our session.  The audience, comprised primarily of social workers, adoption professionals and adoptees, asked very good questions. They were engaged and compassionate and the entire session was highly interactive.

I now believe our draw was based on the very fact that birth mothers – of any era – were present.  We were not mythical creatures that hung out with unicorns. We really existed. Even better we were articulate, living, breathing, sentient beings. I lost count of the number of people that thanked me afterwards for “coming out” and for being the voice of birth mothers.  While I made it clear at the beginning of our sessions I was speaking for myself (and certainly not those equally mythical “happy” birth mothers) I was viewed at times as the voice of birth mothers.  I remain undecided about how I feel about this.  I wish more mothers could or would come out and speak yet I do completely understand why they don’t. Reasons ranging from secrecy, shame, fear of jeopardizing a tentative reunion, treatment of us by others, and so much more keep mothers in the closet. I believe strongly that we need more mothers of ALL eras to speak out.

Speaking of Treatment by Others
For the most part, I was treated with respect and kindness by fellow conference attendees. I did have one uncomfortable interaction with a woman during one of the lunch breaks. I never caught her name and I don’t know her role in adoption (social worker, professional, parent or other). I did not talk with her long enough to discover.  The interaction consisted of me setting my ample bum down on the seat beside her to eat my box lunch. She smiled at me and when I smiled back she asked me “what is your role here” (or something like that).  I told her I was a birth mother.  And then the weirdness began. Her facial expression changed, eye brows went up and her voice became, well, odd sounding. She was judging. I know this as I have been judged by others for 24 years. It is easy to detect.  She asked me somewhat probing questions (I am generally fine with this but her attitude felt attacking) but there was something hostile and offensive in her voice.  Seated on the other side of her was a younger woman that had been listening to our conversation.  I sensed that she sensed I was in a bit of emotional trouble and she threw me an emotional life raft by asking other questions, clearly an attempt to divert the tone and direction of the conversation with the woman seated next to me.

I wrapped up the conversation as quickly as I could and eventually moved my seat. The interaction made me feel, well, dirty, low, unwelcome, and well, like that 17 year old pregnant mother again.  It was unsettling. I was glad it had happened after I had presented.

I am still bothered by this.  I need to think more about this and why it continues to bother me. It feels like it is saying something about me, my status, rather than something about the woman. When seemingly simple things stay with me, they are usually a sign. A sign I should follow.

Co Opting the Birth Father Label
During two separate sessions I found myself startled and confused by the use of the word “birth father” to describe two presenters.  Joe Kroll’s bio was scrolling on a screen prior to a keynote along with those of other speakers. On the right side of the screen was Joe’s bio and on the left was a picture of Beth Hall. It was confusing. Even more confusing to me was the fact that Joe Kroll’s bio said he was an adoptive father and birth father. That caught my eye.  Later that night while dining with Margie, Claud and David Smolin, I asked if Joe Kroll was a birth father (meaning, had he surrendered a child to adoptinon). I told how the bio read.  Claud informed me that she had seen others co opting the term.  Really? Why would anyone want to co op that title? Anyone want to take the title birthmother?

Later in the conference, David Smolin also referred to himself as a birth father. David sort of stumbled over the word. I suspected he intended to say something like adoptive and biological father.  Still, is this true? Are others using this term to refer to fathers other than those that surrender/lose children to adoption.  Color me confused.

Meeting Blog Readers
Throughout the conference I found myself tickled a bit pink when I would be introduced to someone I had never met and they would respond with “Oh! SUZ, I read your blog!”  That made me feel good and bad at the same time. As Usha Smeardon of Ethica remarked to me when we chatted, I haven’t been blogging much. Usha’s caused me to reflect on the possible root cause in my lack of blogging.  There is no concrete reason. I am not avoiding adoption, I still enjoy blogging (and even more so meeting with readers) My life is simply very busy.  I also find some unusual truth in the fact that now that I am with a man that embraces my adoption experiences, that supports my efforts, I feel less of a need to parade them about.  Think of it like you might think of a child you are parenting. many times the more times you tell a child they cannot do something the stronger their desire to do it. Tell a teenage girl she should not date a certain boy and watch that boy become even more magical in her eyes.  Same thing for me in a weird way with my blogging and adoption work.  When I was married to my ex husband, when others around me told me to hide my adoption status, I strongly rebelled and immersed myself in it. Now that my loved ones are more like “yeah, cool, whatever, do you what you need to do” my desire to be all things adoption has lessened. (Does that make any sense to you? For it does to me). Acceptance and validation can be quite healing.

I also met another blog reader/commenter, Psychobabbler. She really made my day.  Psychobabbler had told me via email prior to the conference she would be attending.  I did not know what she looked like and as such let out a bit of a shriek when she introduced herself to me following my presentation.  Later, following Susan Ito’s one woman show, Psychobabbler offered me comfort (I was a bit of a teary wreck following Susan’s performance). Appreciate your kindness, Psychobabbler!

And now, Susan
Adoptee Susan Ito, performed her one woman show “Ice Cream Gene” at the close of Friday’s session.  I have always admired Susan as woman, writer, and mother. I was overjoyed when I learned she would be attending the conference and performing her one woman show that featured Susan bringing to life her first meeting with her birth mother in a hotel room in 1980. It is likely no surprise that I bawled my eyes out during her performance.  I had to work hard not to howl audibly.  It was difficult for me to watch Susan’s performance without reflecting on my own lack of a face to face meet with my daughter. Throughout Susan’s emotionally packed performance, I thought about Susan’s experience, my own lack of, my own dreams, wishes, hopes and how they have changed, dramatically, in the nearly six years since I found my daughter. I fantasized about what my daughter might feel should she choose to meet me. I felt badly for Susan, badly for her birth mother, badly for all of us that have had our lives so deeply dented by adoption trauma.

During the performance an audience member sitting behind me, reached over my shoulder and passed me some tissues. Following the session, a blog reader/new IRL friend, came up to me and hugged me stating she was sitting several rows behind me and that to her, my pain was “palpable”.  This made me a bit self conscious (did I make that big of a scene? I tried, really hard to control myself, really). Moments later, Susan came to me herself and asked me if I was okay.  I jokingly said that I was going to choke her. She chuckled and smiled and unspoken words of comfort and understanding passed between us.

If you have the chance to see Susan perform, please go see her. I have a small video clip of the performance but I must ask Susan for her permission to post.

More to come.

10 Thoughts.

  1. I’ve encountered a few other adoptive parents who use birth mother or birth father to refer to a biological parent, whether or not s/he has relinquished. (The one I remember in particular described herself as “adoptive mother to my daughter and birth mother to my son,” both of whom lived with her.) I can see how that usage might comes about, if someone is relatively new to adoption and thinking of birth mother/adoptive mother as terms to describe how someone is related to a child.

    I have mixed feelings about it (which I will go ahead and share even though, as an adoptive mom, I don’t think my opinion should carry any weight one way or the other).

    On the one hand, in a certain way I think it neutralizes the term a bit — if people are describing themselves that way, whether they’ve surrendered a child or not, then I’d say they aren’t giving those words any negative baggage.

    But they’re neutralizing the term by expanding the definition so it no longer refers specifically to parents who’ve lost a child via adoption — and I don’t think that does anything to mitigate the judgment (often) applied to those parents.

    It also give agencies a bit of cover to apply the term to pregnant women who haven’t yet decided whether or not to parent.

    And, finally, I get a whiff of appropriation.

  2. I am still sad I didn’t get there and am hoping that eventually Susan’s performance goes up on youtube.

    The only time I’ve heard people use “birth parent” to describe bio parents who are parenting said kid is from adoption newbies who are trying to do this kind of “we’re all in this together.” Good intentions, maybe, but I think it obscures discussion more than it helps build bridges.

    Do you remember what quote she used kinda sorta? Sometimes I wish I hadn’t taken down all my archives and then I think I’ll just edit some and put ’em back up and then I see something shiny and wander off. 😛

    • Dawn – Sadly, i do not remember. I do remember the photo of you and Madison, it is one you have used often. Just the two of you, facial, squished closed to each other? I am sure you could write to Beth Hall and ask her to share the presentation with you? The presentation was Friday a.m. titled “Racial Politics and the “Business” of Domestic Private Adoption”

  3. The conference sounds like it would be wonderful and horrible all at once. I would be in an emotional coma afterward, I think.

    I wish the conference had been taped so I could watch the “Claud & Suz Show”, as well as Susan’s performance.

    • Susie – Emotional coma is a good description of what I typically experienced. Not this time. But very different audience, very different circumstances for me. I believe, as noted, this time my body rebelled.

  4. Suz, I’m glad you didn’t edit/clean up/smooth out this post about the conference. The way you related it made it very real for me, as if I had witnessed it, and I feel your reactions. That you had a “body” reaction (not just emotional overload) is telling. I hope you aren’t getting sick (as in a cold, flu, etc.). I know full well that these kinds of experiences can make u feel sick.

    As for the woman at lunch… uggggg. I wish you hadn’t had to endure that. Supercilious be-otch! Too many of them out there.

    As for birth fathers, when I was involved in support groups and conferences year ago, I found a lot of men using that “title” for no good reason. A speaker at an AAC conference in San Francisco had been a sperm donor for a woman friend and was still involved in his child’s life. Birth father? I don’t think so. There was also a man in our triad support group who suspected he was the father of a child relinquished by his girl friend decades before. He searched the ends of the earth (which I have to give him credit for) and in the end, after DNA testing, the daughter was not his. Still, it seemed to me that he wanted so badly to be “like” the rest of us. Sometimes people stretch the facts for the drama.

    I wish I could have been there. I would have been like others you met, “OMG, Suz, I read your blog, I’m so thrilled to meet you!” One of these days, I have a feeling we’ll meet.

    Thank you to you and Claud for speaking for us. Even if the era and details are different, you are getting the truth out.

    Take good care of yourself. Give yourself time to heal and regroup.

  5. It sounds like you had a really great time, overall – thanks for sharing. It makes total sense that you have some post conference junk to deal with. The issue is a huge part of you. I would feel similarily, I think.


  6. I’m really glad we were able to share that room, Suz, because I truly enjoyed having a chance to hang out with you and talk. And considering the size of that closet-sized space, I think we did a commendable job of rooming!

    Re Joe Kroll and David Smolin co-opting “birth father:” I wonder if anyone has clued them in to the fact that this is causing confusion and some skepticism about their use of the term. Both had some good things to say, but they really should both know that in the adoption world that if they haven’t surrendered a child to adoption, the term really isn’t theirs to use.

    Words matter. I heard good things from both of them that could be dismissed if too many people take exception to this.

  7. Suz, it was wonderful to meet you IRL too, and to have the privilege of being at the Claud and Suz show. Honestly, I don’t think what made the presentation so powerful was merely the fact that birth mothers were present and “existed.” It was how genuine you were, how you allowed yourselves to be both vulnerable and authoritative at the same time. You spoke from the expertise of lived experience, and you made no apologies for it.

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