Reflections

A temple in Seoul, South Korea overlooking a lake and mountains.

I first started really blogging in February of 2006 – that means about 14 years ago, Harlow’s Monkey was created. I actually started blogging anonymously at another blog platform a few years prior but didn’t really get going until 2006. I then created Harlow’s Mokey on a platform that doesn’t exist anymore (Typepad/Moveable Press) and in transferring the blog over to WordPress later on, many things were lost (comments on older posts and links, for example) and some posts I removed. In the earlier years I wrote more personally; I used to share poetry and other types of writing and at one point when I decided to focus on adoption (probably around the time adoptive parents found the blog!) and when I moved the blog over to WP, I removed those personal posts.

February was the 14th anniversary of Harlow’s Monkey, and at the end of this month it will be my 20th anniversary of my first return trip back to South Korea since my adoption. In this post I’ll share some reflections and thoughts about how the landscapes of adoption and my own personal life has changed since the early 2000s.

I began this blog as I was finishing up my last semester of my MSW program, and before I began working in public child welfare in foster care adoptions. At the time this blog began I was placed at the state’s Department of Human Services in the Child Welfare Training unit for my internship. I had sought out this placement because I wanted to learn about the larger child welfare system at the state level. Previously, I’d interned at a county public child welfare agency as an adoption/guardianship worker and learned the ropes of case management. I had also previously interned at a private adoption agency. My goal in my social work education was to learn as much as I could about the adoption system. I wanted to know how to write homestudies, how to do visits with prospective adoptive parents, what the pre-adoption training and application process looked like. I did post-placement visits, and learned how to write court reports and out-of-home placement plans and wrote Life Books for children in foster care and searched for relative family members as possible placements for children who were in the system and learned the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC) process.

Because I had worked at private and public child welfare agencies and learned how they played a role in adoption, I wanted to try to better understand adoption from the larger system – the policies that governed what the agencies could do in terms of practice. Even though my internship at DHS was focused on child welfare training for practitioners and foster and adoptive parents, because of my interest I was also able to participate in other important areas related to adoption such as reviewing requests from county workers who wanted to separate siblings for adoption, and understanding how the Child and Family Safety Reviews were conducted, and assisting with a task force that reviewed cases of child deaths (not including accidents and medically-related deaths) to try to understand if or how these deaths might have been prevented. At DHS I learned a lot about the state’s level of responsibility for setting guidelines for practice, and I also learned more about the limits of the state’s role when the state is a county-run system. In county-run systems, the state interprets policy and provides parameters but each county runs things the way they want. You can imagine how in a state like MN where there are 87 counties and 11 tribes what that looks like – basically it’s like having 98 different child welfare agencies. In Washington state where I am now living, the state runs their child welfare system, so it is like one large agency with workers located at regional offices around the state.

I explain all of this so you understand where I was when I started this blog. In addition to my social work education, I was also coming to blogging as a result of a small community of transracial adoptee bloggers I had discovered. The first blog was Twice the Rice and while the blog was not written to be about adoption, the author was a Korean adoptee. In short time I discovered several other blogs written by Korean and Vietnamese adoptees. Then I discovered A Birth Project by Lisa Marie Rollins. And so on, and so on. In the first couple of years I kept on finding more and more blogs written by adoptees – domestic, transracial, transnational. I also found a community of Korean American mothers and joined a blog called Kimchi Mamas. I was a regular contributor to a blog called Anti-Racist Parent. Way before the social media sites of today, the blogging community really was my community and it is where I honed my voice and began articulating my views about transracial and transnational adoption.

During those early active blogging years I was finding such a large community of adoptee blogs that I had a long list of links. I was reading voraciously – news, books, and blogs about adoption. I was blogging sometimes several times a week and often wrote long posts that these days would be to;dr. I wasn’t an academic then. I didn’t consider myself a writer either, even though I was writing a lot. Those early days of the blog were special and unique because I was much more unfiltered and wrote for what I thought was a small audience of other adoptees, most of them transnational Asian adoptees. And because I wrote for them I sometimes kind of forgot my blog was public. I made some typical mistakes, often writing too much like I was talking with my close friends after a couple of glasses of wine – unfiltered, uncensored, sometimes harshly.  I was often overly critical in my comments when people disagreed with me. I was also pro-adoptee and first/birth parent and felt at the time that adoptive parents took up too much space, claimed victimhood too often, and were too self-centered. And some were, but others were also doing their best to acclimate to a new paradigm of re-centering adoption and in looking back I think I sometimes shut people down in my effort to be adoptee-centric.

For adoptees, especially transracial and transnational adoptees like myself, it is frustrating trying to get people to realize that the discourse on adoption is often most centered on the feelings and experiences of adoptive parents and my goal was always to change that paradigm from adoptive parents to adoptees.

I teach and write lot about diversity and social justice and it’s a similar experience of being a person of color who feels like I have to care more about not upsetting nice white people who have good intentions when trying to re-center discussions about racial equity and justice to those who have been oppressed. Like lots of other people, back when I started my blog I was just learning how to write about and engage with others about these topics in ways that centered adoptees (especially adoptees of color). I haven’t necessarily figured out how to do it any better but I’ve now had lots more practice. I’ve also broadened out my scope and have been privileged to do what I really wanted to do when I first started thinking about starting a doctoral program – do research that a) centers adoptees, and b) informs adoption practice and policy.

So in 2020, what do I think has changed? Overall we’ve made incremental changes toward changing some of the most damaging narratives about adoption but unfortunately we have a long way to go. I’m often really sad about the loss of the adoptee blogging community I was part of. While I think the social media platforms of today have provided some interesting and useful ways to build community I think the short posts and sound bites have actually encouraged equally-short emotional reactions to the point where it seems no one reads blog posts anymore and people scroll past anything longer than a couple of paragraphs. In short, I miss the days of blogs.

But on the plus side, the social media platforms do help us respond faster to inaccurate and unrepresentative media that de-centers adoptees in adoption. #FlipTheScript and the work around adoptee citizenship are two examples of terrific uses of social media to advance adoptees. I’ve seen an amazing growth of adoptee researchers, adoptees in social work, adoptee trainers and keynotes and adoptees involved in policy and legislative advocacy and writing books and anthologies and creating art.

I was in my 30s when I started blogging. I’m 51 now. My kids are grown adults, I’ve moved to a new state and started a new career. I’m still passionate about creating content that centers adoptees and I’m working on several projects that do so, but blogging has taken a real backseat over the past several years. For a few years now this blog has had an identity crisis of sorts. If you’ve stuck around this long, thanks for being there with me as I kind of stumbled along. I’m trying to decide what I want this blog to be, but in the meantime I’m really enjoying all of the amazing adoptees doing creative and important work and I want to shine a light on these individuals and their work. I’ll definitely be using this blog more to highlight adoptee projects. I may even share a few of my own from time to time.

Thanks for being on this journey with me.

One thought

  1. Thanks for writing this, JaeRan! I also have mixed feelings about social media’s role in adoptee community building. I love the ability to reach out and chat to adoptees from around the country and around the world. On the other hand, the short videos, graphics, and posts shared in these groups among the younger adoptees don’t have the same depth of emotion and processing that older blog posts do. I also got in to blogging after reading other adoptee blogs, including this one.

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