Split Between Privilege and Denial, The Truth Brings Wholeness

by Luanne

I finished a book the other day, and I’ve had an irresistible urge to talk about it to every person I’ve seen since then.  Have you had that experience from reading?

If you want to feel that way, read Catana Tully’s Split at the Root: A Memoir of Love and Lost Identity.

It’s a book about adoption, but then it’s not quite about adoption.

Tully was born to a Guatemalan woman of African origin, but she grew up in the household of a German family living in Guatemala. She became a proper German young lady and eventually moved to Germany, where she became a fashion model and movie star.

Although many questions arise for the reader about Tully’s background, the girl herself doesn’t question the narrative she has been given by her German mother.

Only belatedly does Tully realize there is much to be learned about her origins.

Tully moves to the United States where she suffers an identity crisis. She isn’t African-American, although she is a Black woman. Eventually, she realizes the hard truth that she is racist toward African-Americans because she has so absorbed the subtle teachings of her childhood.

She studies and ultimately teaches Ethnic Studies and learns that she has been colonized by the German family who raised her. She begins the long struggle to learn who she is and from where she comes.  To do so, she must search for her birth mother (who has since passed away) and her birth father. Along the way, she meets her birth siblings and another father who tells her that he is her birth father. Additionally, after years of a difficult relationship, she reunites with the German sister who was old enough to be her mother and helped raised her. All this is necessary for Tully’s identity education.

I found Tully’s search to be suspenseful and fascinating. The book reads like a mystery or detective novel in the latter half.  The reader learns the truth along with Tully.

What makes Tully’s story similar to the stories of other transracial adoptees, such as my children who were born in Korea, and what makes it different?

The way Tully absorbed the culture of her German mother and didn’t really “see” herself as the birth child of a Black woman seems true to the experience of many transracial adoptees.

Where I think it differs is here:


It’s not only where her experience differs, but something that upset me on behalf of the young woman Catana Tully. She was never legally adopted by her German family. Therefore, when the mother dies (the father had been gone for years), the older (bio) daughter inherits the estate, but Tully does not. Tully writes about this injustice, but presents it fairly objectively. Rather than Tully telling the reader how to feel, the reader must pick up the responsibility and get angry (and I sure did).

So Tully had no legal rights as a daughter of the only family she knew at the point that her German mother died.  That she was loved very much is evident, but she was betrayed by this loving parent who didn’t do right by her in death.

The way the book ends answers most of my questions, although I still felt that the German family was an enigma. But what was important was that Tully’s birth parents came to life for me and surpassed the German mother’s heavy influence. Tully’s life seems to blossom into wholeness by the last words of the book.

The only weak point I could find is that the book could have used another editor’s eyes for typos, but I’m picky about those, and many readers might not even notice them.

Split at the Root is a well-written and thoroughly engaging memoir even for those not interested in adoption, and for anybody connected to adoption it is a must read.

I Might Appear Korean, But . . . (Musings of a Korean-American Adoptee)

by Kasey Buecheler

Just like any culture, there are positive and negative traits that make it what it is.  Growing up as an American, I am used to life in America.  Even with a Korean exterior, I consider myself a true American and I don’t think I have ever considered myself truly Korean.   During my time in Korea, I became more and more aware of how different my friends and I were from those around us.

Outer appearance is something that everyone is fixated on.  Korea has a very different idea of beauty from the typical Western ideal, and I could probably spend multiple blog posts on my opinions of this. They treasure pale skin, larger eyes, and having a small v-shaped face.  Korea has gained some negative publicity as a country with a high rate of plastic surgery in order to achieve this ideal look.  The clothing style is a lot more posh, and there is not much variation among the general population.  Walking around Seoul, anyone could pick us out of a crowd as Americans, with our tanned skin and Abercrombie and Fitch.

The Korean ideal is seen in most Korean commercials. They frequently choose celebrities or models to endorse their products, whereas in the United States comedy is often the main focus of commercials. Thus, the prettiest women and most attractive men get cast most often in Korean commercials.  Yoona is considered a “CF Queen.” The following video is a sample of Yoona’s work:

Korean social etiquette is another area in which there is a big difference.  Even for something as small as accepting a drink from an elder, there are particular ways in which Koreans do these things that we as Westerners are not accustomed to.  I remember being lightly scolded by a parent of a previous boyfriend for not properly greeting them before I even knew that I had done anything wrong.  Elders in Korea have a high expectation for respect from the younger generation, which is reasonable.  In another instance, I was riding a bus and accidentally bumped into an older lady who was sitting beside me as the bus went over a bump in the road.  She began to yell at me, in Korean, so loudly that everyone in the bus was staring because I did not immediately apologize.  Luckily, I was with my previous boyfriend at the time, who was a native Korean, and he was able to stick up for me and we promptly exited the bus.

For Korean Americans, these kinds of differences can be difficult to adjust to.  However, I do feel being raised by Korean parents, even in America, exposes non-adoptees to these kinds of cultural differences.  They might not be raised in an environment where these customs are practiced, but I feel that they are at least made aware.   I have Korean American friends who do not speak a word of Korean, but are familiar with Korean food, manners, and traditions.  They see certain Korean behavior as a “pain in the butt” and may not agree with it, but they still know how to behave themselves when around Korean elders.

Korean adoptees, like myself, are not raised with this sort of exposure.  Going to Korea, we are more similar to the foreign visitors from places like Europe on tour groups.  We go into it not knowing what to expect, exactly.  Koreans are typically understanding in regards to foreigners not being completely familiar with Korean customs.  They may offer help to a foreigner on the street that they see is struggling with a map, or some may simply walk by.  Regardless, they recognize that individual as a foreigner and recognize that they are not familiar with their surroundings.  Where it gets complicated is the fact that Korean adoptees appear Korean.  We have a Korean exterior, and while we may look Americanized, there is still that expectation from native Koreans that we are at least familiar with Korean customs and language as non-adopted Korean Americans are.  Even on the plane ride over, the Korean stewardesses would ask me about my beverage/meal choices in Korean, and I would repeatedly have to tell them “I don’t speak Korean” and receive a puzzled look before they switched over to using English.

Each year, I felt I went to Korea a bit more prepared than the year before.  Because of the amount of time I have spent there, I feel that I have gotten a good idea of what living there is like and what to expect.  As an adoptee, I can say that traveling to Korea was emotionally fulfilling, but there were many hard times as well.


This post was originally published 15 months ago when this blog was very new and had few readers. Here is a brand new article about jaw-cutting surgery (to achieve the look seen in the above video) in KoreAm.double-jaw-surgery_03

Smore Stories – Daring To Journey Through Adoption: Welcoming Brokenness

Tara’s next post in her series about adoption:

Smore Stories – Daring To Journey Through Adoption: Welcoming Brokenness.

Smore Stories – Daring To Journey Through Adoption..

by Marisha

Tara Bradford has initiated an exciting new series on her blog. As an adoptee and an adoptive mother, she has a wealth of experience from both perspectives which can inspire and enrich the rest of us. Follow the link below to read her description.

Thank you, Tara!

Smore Stories – Daring To Journey Through Adoption...

Tara Bradford

Tara Bradford

A Korean Adoptee Speaks to PAPs About a China Adoption

Here’s a thoughtful discussion of adoption and race and their intersection.

Adopted from China

Adoption is so complicated—there are so many different ways to look at it. Until recently, the subject was only in the back of my mind because it would make me sad to think about my birthparents. I also felt that my adoptive parents were enough for me; where I am now is where I am supposed to be, and the fact that I am adopted is not important as long as our family loves each other. As I am beginning to understand myself more as an adult, I am realizing just how prevalent adoption is in my life. I am an Adopted Asian American. Adoptees can only relate to other adoptees when it comes to certain experiences and thoughts. This is what makes us different from Asian Americans, and sometimes this can make us feel isolated. We have our issues like other Asian Americans, but we have extra baggage. With…

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Reunion Between Birthmother and Child She Couldn’t Keep: A Review

by Luanne

Cover of "Reunion: A Year in Letters Betw...

Cover via Amazon

On the advice of Carrie Mulligan @CCMFeltHats, I read Reunion: A Year in Letters Between a Birthmother and the Daughter She Couldn’t Keep. I’m so glad she mentioned it because I hadn’t heard about the book before. What an experience!

In 1996, Katie Hern, a 27-year-old woman who had been adopted domestically, located her birth mother, Ellen Carlson, and initiated contact. They began their reunion through a series of letters and then emails and eventually met in person.

Because both Katie and Ellen are excellent writers, they allow readers into their lives, their personalities, and their emotions in ways that left me feeling as if I knew them both personally and had been witness to their reunion.

Although I prefer Jaye Roth’s image of a Rubik’s cube as a metaphor for adoption, this book discusses the adoption triad or triangle because of how Katie negotiates her new relationship with Ellen, while handling her position in the family she grew up with. Since I am an adoptive mom, I am the 3rd point of the triangle, and so it was really refreshing for me to read a book by the other two “points.”

Ellen is an educated woman who is thrilled to be in touch with the baby, now an adult, she gave up for adoption over a quarter of a century before. Even so, she makes missteps as she has to learn how to understand Katie’s perspective. She’s a willing student.

Katie, who has been the family peacemaker, learns how to teach Ellen to understand where Katie is “coming from.” Katie has a lot of feelings to deal with—feelings she didn’t expect to have.

As they learn how to relate to each other, they learn more and more about each other. They identify similarities and differences.

Katie admits near the beginning that a lot of literature by adoptees “pisses” her off. She doesn’t want to self-identify as a “mythic hero” or “survivor,” as Betty Jean Lifton would have her do. She thinks that the term “adoptee” sounds “like something you need a prosthesis for.”  Above all, she doesn’t want anybody to tell her how she should feel or think about being adopted.

But as the reunion goes on, Katie becomes introspective, learning more about herself, her feelings about having been adopted, and how adoption might have helped shape her personality and outlook on life. She comes to believe that she has a “fluid” identity because she was adopted.  This means that there is a lot of “shifting” involved.

As things go on there are changes, where the relationship between Katie and Ellen deepens.  Rifts occur. I’m not going to ruin the ending by telling you how the book ends regarding their relationship.

The only other thing I’ll mention is that I’m really glad they decided to put Katie’s brother Matt in their letters. I think his story, albeit through Kate’s eyes, is a good addition to the book.

I can’t wait to hear what y’all think about the book!

I’m Looking Forward to the New Film of Filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem

by Luanne

I’ve written on here about the film project Geographies of Kinship by filmmaker and Korean adoptee, Deann Borshay Liem.

The photo below is a link to the home page for Liem’s project. A description from her website follows the photo/link.

About the Project

My name is Deann Borshay Liem and I’m a documentary filmmaker and Korean adoptee. While traveling around the world with my previous films, First Person Plural and In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee, I met hundreds of Korean adoptees from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Canada. I’ve had the tremendous privilege of hearing countless stories from adoptees of all ages – sometimes heartbreaking, oftentimes funny and ironic, always inspiring. These stories cover the gamut of life experiences – from stories about searching for identity and belonging; to stories of love, loss, and discovery; to questions about “who am I” and “how did I get here?”

Geographies of Kinship presents a small handful of the amazing stories I’ve heard from around the world. We meet, for example, Estelle Cooke-Sampson, a bi-racial adoptee who revisits the orphanage where she grew up until she was adopted by an African American soldier at the age of seven. She wonders how the nuns felt about having a black child in the 1950s. Emma Anderson is a Swedish adoptee who visits Korea for the first time and unexpectedly reunites with her birth mother, discovering family secrets along the way. Meanwhile, Michael Holloway is in San Francisco when he meets his birth family via webcam on a live television show. He is shocked to discover he has an identical twin. These, and other riveting stories, serve as a springboard for exploring the history of transnational adoptions from Korea, from the 1950s to the present.

We have already started development of the project, collected some archival material and shot some interviews. I was thrilled recently to receive development funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities which is now enabling us to complete archival footage research, write a script, consult with scholars and experts, and edit a fundraising reel. We will be done with these important steps in the Fall.

We are now asking for contributions via Kickstarter so that we can continue our momentum and complete the production (shooting) phase of the film by following our film’s participants on their individual journeys. Your support will help us get all the elements we need for the film so we can actually start editing and make what I know will be a fantastic film.

I just received an update on the project, and it’s coming along beautifully.  Their Kickstarter fundraising is over, but they can still use donations.  You can go to this link to donate.

Lots to share with you on the status of Geographies of Kinship! Time is flying by and we’ve been hard at work on the film, collecting visual material, translating and transcribing interviews and much more. Here are some of our recent activities:

• Completed a script for the film and submitted for funding to the National Endowment for the Humanities.
• Edited a 10-minute fundraising sample reel.
• Filmed Single Mom’s Day in Seoul, including a Human Library event where birth parents, single mothers and adoptees shared their stories.
• Conducted interviews with adoptees and spent time with adoptee organizations Korea Klubben and Adopterade Koreaners Förening in Denmark and Sweden, respectively.
• Researched the early years of adoption at the Social Welfare Archive of the University of Minnesota.
• Collected, translated and transcribed Korean news footage related to the IMF crisis in 1997 that led to the phenomenon of “IMF Orphans.”
• Collected news footage of President Kim Dae Jung meeting in 1998 with Korean adoptees and offering an apology for sending away Korean children overseas.
• Researched the impact of the changes to Korea’s adoption law in 2011.

I can’t wait until I actually get to see this completed project and enjoy the film!

Where I’m “At” Today (and Happy Mother’s Day!!)

Photo by Marisha

by Marisha

I used to think that expectations were poison for the soul.

I used to blame my adoption for a lot of my actions.

I used to prefer to be down about it.

I’ve had a lot of disappointments and never thought I deserved better because of my abandonment issues.

Looking back on those times, I now realize how important it is to have patience.

Patience for myself and patience for understanding.

I’m 25 now–a woman–and everything has started to fall into place because I have allowed myself the time to understand my adoption and use it in a positive way. I know things will never be perfect, but my life is the best gift I could be given.

My mindset has changed and my outlook is now settling under a positive light.

Today I choose happiness . . .

All these downfalls have led me here in this moment: I am proud to be adopted. Proud to be different. And proud to share my stories and insecurities with you all.

Also, Happy Mother’s Day to all the women who gave people like me beautiful lives! My mum is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Who could hate adoption when I have a mother like her?! 🙂 I love you, Mum!

An Adoptee Finds Some Answers

by Luanne

Count on Steve Hartman for some wonderful stories on his CBS Evenings News segment, “On the Road.”  The episode I saw Friday (April 12, 2013) was about international adoption, war, a baby, and a hero.

Click here for an inspiring and heart-warming story of a woman born in Vietnam and adopted in the United States.  Kimberly M. Miller is president of a non-profit organization that helps veterans.  But she started out as a baby in war-torn Vietnam.  She searched for her roots and what she found out will make you tear up.

Click on the photo below for an article about Kim in NYDailyNews.com.

The Diary of an Adoptee: Interview of Elaine Pinkerton about “The Goodbye Baby”

by Luanne

I found it difficult to put down Elaine Pinkerton’s published diary The Goodbye Baby once I began reading.  At first, I was caught up in the mind of an adolescent girl who is both intelligent and a little clueless about herself.  Ultimately, I was drawn into the struggles of the woman the girl had become.

The book’s subtitle is A Diary about Adoption, and while only a tiny proportion of the entries actually mention adoption issues, clearly Elaine’s life had been greatly shaped by the events of her adoption which occurred at the age of five.  Eventually, Elaine re-read her diary, and by doing so was able to begin a healing process from the “bruises of adoption.”

Today Elaine is a very self-aware, spiritual, and quite “centered” woman.  Sharing her diaries with the world is a generous and courageous act.  As an adoptive mother, I found them to be eye-opening.

Like any good reading, Elaine’s book left me with a few questions, so I asked the author herself and she was kind enough to respond.

Q:  When you were writing your diary as a teen, did you have any fantasies about the purpose of your diary or what would happen to it?  I noticed that years after you began your diary, you bought yourself a copy of Anne Frank’s diary. After you read it, did you feel it altered your own diary writing in any way?

A:  Never in my wildest imaginings did I think that my diaries would be re-visited. They were written just for my own release and comfort, not for posterity. It never occurred to me that anything would happen to the little books in which I faithfully recorded daily thoughts and activities. When I read Anne Frank’s diary, I entered into her world. As I recall, after reading The Diary of Anne Frank, I regarded my own diary-writing as a more important activity.

Q:  You call a negative state you have experienced “Edgar.”  Is it depression or is it something else?  If so, how is it different?  If it’s depression, why do you call it by a name and not by the clinical term?

A:  The reason I’ve labeled my depression “Edgar” and not just “depression”…one of my literary heroes and spiritual leaders, the late Hugh Prather, called his own sadness and doubt “Edgar.” In lectures, of which I attended many, Prather would describe waking up each morning and finding that his nemesis, a depression he referred to as “Edgar,” was right there on the pillow, teeth bared and ready to gnaw away at heart and soul. Prather spoke of beating “Edgar” back into his cage and locking him up.

Q:  You seem to have been quite “boy crazy” as a teen.  On March 6, 1962, you recorded that you were dating 16 boys.  Do you feel your adoption played into that in any way?

A:   It was hard, as I reviewed the old diaries, to read about that period of my life. I absolutely cringe at how boy crazy I was. The obsessiveness came from my hunger for love and acceptance. Despite the evidence that my adoptive parents loved me, I felt that I was a disappointment to them. And of course I knew that my birthmother didn’t love me, so I was “looking for love in all the wrong places.” I was trying in vain to prove that I was worthy of love. Instead of love, I went for popularity. And it was never enough.

Q:   Later in the book, I was saddened to watch the old Elaine hanging on for Jack and then hanging on for Sam (even when she very articulately conveyed why Sam was bad for her).  I have been studying Pia Mellody’s work on “love addiction” and have become convinced that therapists who work with people who were adopted should have much knowledge about this subject in their “therapy toolboxes.”  I also noticed that you read Robin Norwood’s Women Who Love Too Much.  Do you feel that love addiction was a component in your relationships with men and if so, from today’s perspective, how did you break free from its grip?

A:  Women Who Love Too Much:  I felt that book could have been written by me, or even about me. The paradigm in my dating life was that the nice suitors, and there were some, had to be losers. Otherwise, why would they be interested in me? As Groucho Marx commented, “I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have me for a member!” I went for the men who did NOT place me on a pedestal or who ultimately did not treat me at all well.  It was yet another manifestation of adoption-induced low self-esteem. Breaking free from this form of love addiction took years of therapy and a lot of spiritual development. I studied and practiced Buddhism for a period, joined an Episcopalian church and attended faithfully. I prayed to overcome my self-punishing thought patterns. Slowly, imperceptibly, in small increments, I became more mentally healthy.

Q:  Did you revise the diary (other than eliminating passages) or change names?  If so, why?

A:   The diary is not revised other than changing names. I chose passages carefully, taking several years to prune out day entries that shed little light on my adoption perceptions. The everyday material is sometimes shortened (leaving out the entire account of a day) but not rewritten. A few names were changed to protect the privacy of my ex-husband and my children. The “bad boyfriends” (long-term adult relationships) names have been changed. The ex-husband’s and deceased second husband’s names are changed. Names from the distant past, e.g. adolescent friends, were kept the same.

Q:  Was your high school drinking typical of the era?  Was it related to your adoption?

A:  I was not alone in my excessive drinking, as my girlfriends were equally over the top. I was not even the worst. We lived in a university town and UVA was known as a “party college.” The college social life, which we took part in, was definitely an influence. In the style of “Mad Men,” everybody seemed to consume large amounts of liquor. Not my adoptive parents, however. I knew that they did not approve of my drinking and this made me even more convinced that I was a disappointment to them.

Q:  Did it help you (as an adoptee) to have a bio brother growing up with you?  Did it make it more difficult in any way?

A:  My brother was the favorite of our adoptive parents, or so I thought. We were four years apart and I had very little to do with him. If anything, having my bio brother as part of the “new” family made it more difficult.

Q:  I want to know more about the meeting with your birth father. Is there anything else you can add about this experience?

A:  I’ve written about a much-later meeting in my recent blog post “The Dad I Scarcely Knew,” though this was after the reunion described in my book. As far as the trip to California in my diary, I was very conflicted. On the one hand, it was remarkably generous and “progressive” (for the times) of my adoptive parents to authorize such a trip. It was my first time in an airplane, going from Virginia to California. On the other hand, I felt that Giovanni was beneath me socially. From his Navy days, he had a tattoo on his forearm and that seemed like a label for “low class.” Virginia was a very snobbish place, after all. My feeling about “the birthparents” all along had been that they were beneath my adoptive parents economically, culturally and socially. Whether this was conveyed from my adoptive mom and dad or was just something I invented is hard to say. At any rate, I felt awkward and out of place during my entire California visit.

Q:  You mention at one point after meeting with Velma, your birthmother, that you believed that she didn’t approve of you.  I was surprised to hear this because even with your personal problems you sounded like a person a mother would take great pride in. Why did you feel that way?  After I learned that your long view backwards was that Velma suffered from mostly untreated mental illness, I wondered if it was difficult to read her because of her own instability.

A:  Strange as it may sound, my birthmother seemed resentful of my apparent success. The first time she came to my home to visit me, I had just published Santa Fe on Foot. I took her along as I arranged book signings and celebrated the book’s debut. She felt left out and complained that I was “too busy” to meet my half sister. She completely did not understand my joy at the book’s publication, instead feeling that the spotlight should have been on her, not my literary success. I believe that Velma’s instability was indeed the obstacle to my understanding her or her accepting me.

Q:  At the end you mention that you will be meeting your half sister.  Did you meet her?  Have you written about this meeting?  Are you still in contact with her?

A:  Meeting my half sister is still on my “to do” list. I want to make sure that she wants to meet me, as if might be as unsettling as my interactions with Velma. I’m awaiting some kind of sign from her that she would like to meet. Right now there is a lot going on with my own family, and I am focussing on trying to help with some domestic situations. I’ve decided to help bring about a meeting with my half sister if she shows any signs of wanting that.  My half sister said, about our mother, that I “was the lucky one,” as she was sent to a detention home as a teenager. She also told me that Velma tried to give her (my half sister) up for adoption. I gather that she did not have an easy growing up. If and when the time is right, I would be very open to meeting. The situation is still a work-in-progress.


Elaine Pinkerton is a long-time resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico. In addition to writing for magazines and newspapers, she is the author of several popular non-fiction and fiction books.

She is a world traveler, an educator focused on working with young children, a labyrinth facilitator, and also an avid skier, hiker and marathon-runner.  Elaine still resides in Santa Fe with her loving feline companion, Thomas Cromwell, and is already in the works on her next novel.

In her memoir, The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption, Elaine Pinkerton reveals the bruises of adoption that have impacted her from the tender age of five. It tells the author’s journey as she is coming to grips with her lifelong wounds from her very own adoption. It is an exploration into self-discovery and the attainment of authenticity. The story of The Goodbye Baby is told through essays and diary entries that span over four decades from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Elaine hopes that by sharing her inner-most thoughts with her readers, they will feel informed and inspired – her overriding mission with the book is to serve as a resource for other in the adoption community who are struggling with their own adoption.

To follow Elaine and her work as an author:

Elaine’s Blog: elainepinkerton.wordpress.com

Follow Elaine on Twitter: @TheGoodbyeBaby

Like Elaine’s Fan Page: Elaine Pinkerton at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Elaine-Pinkerton/363479233726632

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