Forget Me Not Family Society
3rd ANNUAL PRESENTATION TO GRADUATE STUDENTS,
SCHOOL OF SOCIAL WORK,
UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA
Wednesday October 14th, 2015
Report by Bernadette Rymer
For the third consecutive year we are delighted to be invited by Dr. Edward Kruk to make a three hour presentation to the graduate students in the School of Social Work, at UBC. As in 2013 and 2014, our presentation was comprised of a panel discussion by members of the adoption constellation and an education component.
Our incredible team members this year were: Marnie Tetz, Adoptee; Michael Hodgson, Adoptee; Rian Martin, Original/Birth Father and Adoptive Father; Nancy Kato, Original/Birth Mother, Co-facilitator, and myself, Bernadette Rymer, Original/Birth Mother, Program Planning and Development, Co-facilitator. Each panel member briefly shared his/her story and reflections on how adoption has impacted their lives. Next was an open discussion with a question and answer period.
This was followed by the educational component where students were asked to discuss and respond to the following quote in light of their studies, and to use evidence based research to discuss issues on a broad range of issues related to open and international adoption.
“Adoption is the only trauma in the world in which the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful.” Rev. Keith C. Griffith, MBE
Dr. Edward Kruk and ten graduate students were very receptive to our presentation. While we received very positive feedback from students in both 2013 and 2014, we felt that the level of interaction between the students and us, and amongst the students, was more open, active and insightful than in the two previous years. Dr. Kruk was delighted with our presentation and said that our level of professionalism, quality of presentation and students understanding of the complexity of adoption far exceeded his expectations.
At the opening of our presentation students were asked to comment on their understandings of adoption in six topic areas. At the end of our presentation, students were asked to revisit the same six topics and comment on their learning and insights as a result of our panel presentation and educational component. Student comments on the evaluation form revealed a significant shift in their thinking about and understanding of adoption. They evaluated our presentation as follows: “Extremely Useful”, 9 students; “Useful” 1 student.
Below is a summary of student comments on the evaluation form at the conclusion of our presentation.
Topic: Birth/Original Mother/Father
- Social issues/adoption is more complicated than I thought.
- New perceptions of the struggles of birth parents: Systematic oppression, possible influence/pressure on birth parents to make their decisions. Lack of choice is no choice. Birth parents are portrayed as not wanting to keep their children. Recognizing the extent of grief & loss. Lasting concerns that never go away – “you never get over it”, may be deeply buried. Psychological and emotional implications of carrying and living with guilt; lack of support for birth mothers before and after birth.
- Guilt and fear/terror of reunion; reunion and reconnection.
- The name ‘Forget Me Not’ is how the experience is with you forever. Fear and loss associated with losing children to adoption.
- Broader issues around adoption are not highlighted. Evidence that professionals perpetuate the view that birth families should be grateful as adoption is the best option.
- Each individual experience is unique to that person; the weight of carrying the feeling and of wanting to connect with birth parent.
- All the emotional weight the adoptees carry both regarding their own grief and loss/identity questions and carrying the emotions of their adoptive and birth parents.
- Have no context: How do they fit in?
- Adoptees have the right to know their heritage.
- Adoptees need to be careful dealing with adoptive parents when searching for birth parents; need to ‘fit’ into a new family.
- Many bear the weight of having to negotiate emotions of multiple adults, while facing pressure to be happy and grateful that they were adopted.
Topic: Adoptive Parents
- Adoptive parents take on a significant role that is very complex.
- Although there is far more support than in the past, lots of support is needed to deal with the child’s integration and with adoptive parent’s grief, loss and infertility.
- Disconnect between adoptees and adoptive parents re: trauma and behavioral issues.
- Their role is important but more training should be provided so parents are aware of adoptees feelings.
- Fear of taking away children by birth mother.
- Need to be prepared for what it really means to adopt; open communication; need to deal with their own grief around infertility; be prepared to also be a parent.
Topic: Open Adoption
- That it is actually not that open: The difficulty is in reinforcing openness agreements.
- If the adoptive parents decide to move there is no legal obligation for them to continue their connection with the birth mother.
- Supporting relationships with birth family. Providing information to support connection between adoptee and birth parents.
- Important and necessary but very challenging to negotiate; new respect for the experience of birth parents.
- How difficult it is to figure out who would do what.
- Progressive in BC; encouraged by law but not mandated.
- Recognize that there is a societal shift for open registry; adoption is no longer a hidden moment to be ashamed of.
- Maintaining roots/family tree (not stumps) is crucial. Kids need to know their whole histories.
Topic: International Adoption
- Interesting that those countries that have had a natural disaster have put a moratorium on adoption.
- More awareness of the complications of international adoption; adds another layer to the identity struggles.
- It is hard to do a reunion and therefore the child’s best interests are not practiced, if they want to know their identity.
- It’s very complicated. Dis-connectedness from bio-family
- Violation of child’s rights.
- Perpetuating the need for adopted children to have feelings of gratitude towards their ‘saviors’.
- Lots to consider: What does it mean to make sense of yourself, your history, culture and country of origin?
- International Adoption has been glamorized in the media, ‘commodifying’ adoption/adoptees.
- ‘Altruism’ suggested through celebrity international adoptions. (e.g. Madonna and Angelina Jolie).
- The differences between reunion and reconnection: Reconnection is a different process than reunion.
- I appreciated the distinction between reunion and reconnection and have a whole new respect for the need for support throughout the process
- Difference between reunion and reconnection. Reunion does not necessarily mean ‘reconnection’; a lot to process the years of grief and loss.
- Is necessary but disconnection may happen.
- Getting to know a stranger is like a “dance” with the family.
- Needs much more support, not only about first meeting but also reconnection.
- FMNFS identified a service gap in the reunion process: Who helps the families process the trauma?
What students found most interesting
- So Much! Thank you. I found it all very interesting. I leave with a much greater understanding of birth parents perceptive – in particular new respect for birth parents.
- Personal stories and experiences shared; visceral account of what adoption is like from all sides. Incredibly illuminating and moving. Points very well presented multiple perspectives. Making the real life connection and hearing the stories. Bringing another level of humanity to the issues. Thank you.
- Impressed by the self-disclosure, the work of the FMNFS and challenges of family reunion.
- How complex this is. New perspectives on societies’ perceptions of birth parents and adoptees.
With sincere thanks: We wish to sincerely thank Dr. Kruk for inviting and hosting us again this year. We extend our gratitude to the 10 students who greeted us so warmly. Several students lingered with us after the session to discuss varied issues, and to talk about their responses to our presentation.
As education and advocacy are key components of our FMNFS mission, we view these presentations as excellent opportunities to make a difference, to dispel the myth of adoption as the perfect option for all, and to bring the truth of adoption to the fore.
While our efforts are currently reaching audiences small in number, since our first UBC presentation in 2013 we have reached into the hearts of 37 soon-to-be Social Workers, professionals who have and continue to play a pivotal role in adoption.