Found in the cabbage patch

Yesterday morning, as I was scrolling on social media, I came across a story about the history of the Cabbage Patch dolls and it was interesting to reflect on the phenomenon of this popular 1980s toy trend and all of the ways this doll and adoption are intertwined for me.

The sensationalized story titled “The cutthroat saga behind the Cabbage Patch Kids craze” written by Leslie Gonzalez was originally published on the History 101 website (October 17, 2018). According to this article, the doll was patented in 1978 by Xavier Roberts and it turns out that while Roberts made his fortune from these dolls, he actually stole the idea from a woman named Martha Thomas who had been making these dolls and selling them in craft fairs in the Midwest.

One of the ideas Roberts stole from Thomas was the idea that these dolls were “adoptable.” Each doll had a story and a certificate of adoption with the doll’s unique name and “birth day” and the rest was blank for the child to provide his or her name and address as the adoptive parent. Both Thomas and Roberts had, as part of the production and sales of their dolls, the idea of having people pay “adoption fees” rather than buying the dolls. Of course, Roberts made millions of dollars off of the “adoption fees” for these dolls.


Sample of the Cabbage Patch “adoption papers”

I was 15 in 1983, the year of the big Cabbage Patch doll craze, when people lined up in stores and fought over the dolls. I was aware of the dolls even though I wasn’t personally interested. I remember thinking about the name, the idea behind the “cabbage patch” and the adoption certificate. Then my maternal grandma gave my sister and I cabbage patch dolls for Christmas. Because back in those days they had only white and black dolls, my white sister received a blonde girl doll and I received a black girl doll named Addie Mae. Even though I wasn’t very racially aware back then, I remember feeling like the name was a stereotype.

In my family, we didn’t talk about the fact that I was a different race than anyone else. My family did not single me out for being Korean, and never made me feel like I wasn’t part of the family. I appreciated this in many ways since at the time I felt hyper-visible and targeted as an Asian in my nearly all-white school and community. Yet I also did wish there was some recognition of my difference. So while it felt somewhat odd to receive a black Cabbage Patch doll, I was grateful that my grandma knew enough to not give me a white one. I knew she understood it would mean a lot to me to have a doll that acknowledged that I saw myself as not white.

The Cabbage Patch Kids are still available and on their website you can “find your baby,” and your “perfect match.” Just like an adoption list website, you can “see adoptees” sorted by their eye color, gender, hair color, size and skin tone. Each photo lists the doll’s “adoption fee.”

You can also visit BabyLand General Hospital in Cleveland where the employees dress like hospital nurses.

From the official website: “As you move through the swinging port-hole doors, you will enter our nurseries for hand-stitched Original Kids and Babies. These extra special works of soft-sculpted art continue to be lovingly hand crafted by local artists in Cleveland, Georgia. These Originals are available for immediate adoption. Feel free to pick them up and give them a hug. They love the attention!”

After customers pick out their dolls, according to the website, “you will be invited into one of our adoption offices to take the oath of adoption and complete your papers. Each hand-stitched Original comes with its own birth certificate and adoption papers. Congratulations! You just became a new parent.”

I’m not sure if the use of adoption in marketing dolls to children began with Cabbage Patch dolls but it didn’t end there, and This American Life has an episode about an FAO Schwartz newborn doll department set up as a “nursery” for adoption and what happens when all the white dolls sell out. The episode, Babies Buying Babies originally aired in 2008 under the show, Matchmakers.

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When I talk about the way we are socialized in particular ways about adoption, this is what I’m talking about. As a researcher who studies adoption, one of the things that struck me the most about the Cabbage Patch doll narrative is how much it actually aligns with how adoption is practiced today and how the process of “adopting” a doll socializes children about adoption. The language used – “meet the adoptees” – and that you can search for the one you want by a number of characteristics, including race, and you receive adoption certificates and can even change the name of your doll – all of these are strikingly on point.

We are socializing children to think about adoption from very early ages. And as the This American Life story illustrates, race is part of this socialization. But, so is demand, and the framing of the “parent” as having all of the options and choices they want.

When my daughter was young, around 3-4 years old, I once caught her and a few of her friends playing “giving birth” with their dolls. One girl was on the floor, with a doll under her shirt, while the other two were saying, “push, push!” I also saw my daughter and her friends play-nursing their dolls. Of course, they were modeling what they saw in their own lives. Yet my daughter and her friends also knew a lot about adoption – from the media they consumed (think Disney) and from the language they heard in society in general. Both of my kids, but especially my oldest, was very interested in adoption because so many children’s tv shows and movies included adoption and child separation. My daughter knew the musical Annie by heart and thought all orphanages – including the one I once lived in – looked the same.

Socialization is powerful. The example of the Cabbage Patch Dolls are just one example. I think about all of the “adoption” campaigns our children (and the rest of us) see, many that are never discussed with us, and how these contribute to the grand master narratives about adoption. Adopt a highway, adopt an endangered animal, and of course, shelter pet adoption commercials and campaigns. My daughter now works with dogs professionally and we talk about how similar the ways dogs in shelters are described for adoption like they are for children in foster care. And when I was working in foster care, one of the youth I was working with to find an adoptive home told me that working on their description made them feel like they were, according to their words, “a puppy for sale in a window.”

Reading about the Cabbage Patch Dolls and realizing that not only do they still exist, but the adoption storyline has continued so strongly in contrast to American Girl dolls, which have no adoption component even though many of the other aspects are the same (such as picking out characteristics of the doll you want). But there are other doll companies that use adoption as a theme.

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Adora has a selection of dolls for adoption. The description from the website: “Adopt one or all of Adora’s Adoption Babies and bring them to their forever home!…There are four sweet and adorable babies to choose from, each with a different skin tone and eye color. There is Hope, Cherish, Precious and Joy – and each come with a certificate of adoption, pacifier, hospital bracelet, disposable diaper and is swaddled in a cuddly soft microfiber blanket…Your little one will build a special bond with their Adoption Baby as they experience what it’s like to bring a baby home. Little parents in training can name their baby, and start their very own baby doll family while learning to nurture and engage in pretend play.”

Then there is the Little Mommies Adoption Center where, similar to the Cabbage Patch doll’s Babyland, a child can go pick up their new doll in a hospital and formally adopt their new “baby.” Screen Shot 2018-11-04 at 8.43.41 AM.png

What other ways do we socialize children to the master narrative of adoption?




November is an important month to me. It’s the estimated month of my birth, which as many adoptees know can bring conflicting emotions. This year is particularly significant in that I will turn 50, a big milestone in any person’s life but has made me particularly reflective this past year as I head toward my AARP membership.

November is also the month my oldest child was born and again, as an adoptee, having my children – especially my first – and knowing she was the first person I had a genetic relationship with was so powerful. My oldest was due on my birthday that year, but came a couple of days early. Still, sharing our birthdays so close together, has always felt like such a gift to me. Having my children and being able to raise them has been a healing journey and I feel so fortunate to have had that opportunity.

Finally, November is National Adoption Month. For a history of National Adoption Month you can visit the official website hosted by the Child Welfare Information Gateway (here). As an adoptee, as a former adoption professional, and as an adoption scholar, this month involves a lot of work – formal and informal – as I weed through the many news stories I am sure will be featured on every news site and online publishing venues and blogs and social media outlets.

This annual campaign to promote adoption has traditionally focused on adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents. As Maureen at Light of Day Stories writes, it has only included adoptee voices – particularly adult adoptee voices – in the past few years through the intervention of adult adoptees who have challenged the dominant narratives of adoption and advocated for an expanded narrative that includes adoptees and birth/first parents.

Here at Harlow’s Monkey, I have been wanting to post more and so I am going to use this month as a starting point to update more regularly. I have several things I want to write about and share; memoirs by adoptees that I have recently read (including Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know and Susan Devan Harness’ Bitterroot: A Salish Memoir of Transracial Adoption); new films and media projects including Glenn and Julie Morey’s SideXSide Project; reviews of other adoption books, my thoughts on the recent ASAC/AI conference; and reflections on some of the current research I’ve been working on including adult Korean adoptees and parenting, the displacement experiences of Intercountry adoptees, adoption professionals training and preparation, and how adoption agencies can incorporate stronger supports regarding open adoptions between adoptive and birth/first families.

Thanks for joining me on this month’s journey.  As always, my blog will be adoptee-centric and will privilege and highlight adoptees voices first and foremost. I think we will have lots to talk about.

Call for Papers: Adoption Quarterly Special Issue

I’m guest editing a special issue of Adoption Quarterly with Bibiana Koh. Please forward to your colleagues and let us know if you have any questions!

Call for Papers
Special Issue of Adoption Quarterly: Ethics and Adoption

Adoption Quarterly invites abstract submissions for consideration in a special issue critically examining the intersection of ethics and adoption. Ethics are implicitly embedded in nearly all aspects of adoption including (but not limited to) pre/post-placement assessment, clinical practice, education, policy, placement/matching, disruptions/ dissolutions, search/reunion, bioethics/genetic testing, demographics, and economic factors. The aim of this special issue is to broaden our knowledge of how ethics explicitly intersects with these areas (and others) of adoption.

Examples of questions that this issue seeks to better understand may include (but are not limited to) the following:
• Ethics and decision-making in adoption: What ethical theories guide adoption professionals’ ethical decision-making in public and private adoptions?
• Ethics and professional codes of ethics: How do professional disciplines’ (e.g., social work, marriage and family therapy, psychology, medical, etc.) codes of ethics help to navigate practice?
• Ethics and adoption search and reunion: How do codes of ethics inform the use of technology (e.g., social media) in adoption search and reunion practices?
• Ethics and placement/disruption/dissolution: How do adoption agencies handle ethical dilemmas in placement, disruption, and/or dissolution?
• Ethics and policy: How do ethical theories explicitly inform adoption policy at the local and/or global level?
• Ethics and pre-placement: What ethical frameworks explicitly guide/inform the assessment and training of prospective adoptive parents (i.e. home study) and matching processes (i.e. use of child photo listings)?
• Ethics and birth/first parents: What are the ethical considerations in working with expectant parents in options counseling, and/or termination of parental rights for adoption?
• Ethics, ethnicity/culture, and education: What are agencies and/or adoptive parents’ ethical responsibilities in educating transracial/intercountry adoptees?
• Ethics and global considerations in adoption: What are the key ethical considerations in adoption globally?
• Ethics and clinical practice: How do our codes of ethics inform our clinical practice in adoption?
• Bioethics and adoption: What ethical theories and/or ethical decision-making models are guiding/informing the use of mass, consumer genetic testing for various purposes (e.g., searching, medical information, ethnicity, etc.)?
• Ethics and legal aspects: What are the potential conflicts of interest when representing more than one party within a given organization (e.g., adoptee, expectant parent, prospective adoptive parent, etc.)?

Abstract submissions may be theoretical, qualitative, or quantitative in nature; empirical submissions are strongly encouraged and may be given priority. Submissions must be original and not previously published. All submissions should explicitly utilize ethical theories/frameworks and/or relevant codes of ethics/standards.

Please submit a 500-750 word abstract no later than February 1, 2019 to Bibiana Koh ( Authors will be notified of decisions by March 15, 2019. Manuscripts for accepted abstracts must be submitted by July 31, 2019.

Bibiana D. Koh, Ph.D., LICSW
Assistant Professor & MSW Field Director
Batalden Scholar in Applied Ethics
Augsburg University
Social Work Department, CB #51
2211 Riverside Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55102

JaeRan Kim, Ph.D., LISW
Assistant Professor, Social Work and Criminal Justice
University of Washington, Tacoma
Box 358425, 1900 Commerce Street
Tacoma, WA 98402-3100

Download slides and keynote script from NACAC conference

Hi everyone,

I promised that I would provide the slides and script of my keynote presentation from the NACAC Conference. Please also note that these are for your personal use only. If you want to quote from my presentation please contact me; also please cite – citing and proper attribution is a crucial social justice action. I’ve included recommended citations for you below. Finally, for more of my community presentations, you can find more of my writing and presentation slides/scripts at

The Personal is Political- Racial Identity and Racial Justice in Transracial Adoption NACAC 2018 Slides

PDF of PowerPoint presentation and keynote for 2018 NACAC Conference. Recommended citations:

Kim, J.R. (2018). The personal is political: Racial identity and racial justice in transracial adoption [PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved from

The Personal is Political – Racial identity and racial justice in transracial adoption NACAC 2018

Kim, J.R. (2018). The personal is political: Racial identity and racial justice in transracial adoption. Keynote. St. Paul, MN. August 9, 2018.  Retrieved from

ICA Disruption – NACAC 2018 Slides

PDF of PowerPoint presentation for NACAC Conference. Recommended citation: Kim, J.R. (2018). Intercountry Adoption Displacement: What do we know and what can we do about it? St. Paul, MN. August 9, 2018.  Retrieved from

An open letter to the children being separated from their parents at the border

Dear dear young friend,

I am sorry. As a fellow, formally displaced child, I am sorry you have to go through this separation.

On behalf of the millions of people watching you being taken away from your parent’s outstretched arms, placed in chain-linked and concrete buildings, outraged and angry and grieving, we are sorry.

We are sorry that we are living in a country where the politicians care more about their image and television ratings and money and power than about the people they claim to serve. And I am sorry that despite the hatred and animosity shown to you from millions of people that greet you here, that your family experienced worse where you were and that the U.S. offered at least a glimpse of hope. Because as Warsan Shire said,

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

Six years ago I stood on the grounds of Ellis Island, where hundreds of thousands of people came in search of a safe place to live; the ancestors of those who are now screaming at your families to “go back to your country.” How soon they forget; that once it was their families who were the ones pleading for a chance. And the others, whose ancestors came here illegally and stole the land from those who were here.

My young friend, you have sadly joined the thousands of disappeared children, whose names and identities were changed. Who were separated from their families because of war, genocide, natural disasters, politics, religious ideology, patriarchy and above all, adults determining “the best interests of the child.” You are now part of a legacy. You have join the hundreds of thousand of us children in this country who were stolen from their families and sent to Indigenous boarding schools, or sent away on orphan trains, or brought here from other countries for adoption. You will be told it will be for a better life; it will come at a cost. You will be required to forget who you are.

It is possible that you will not see your families for a very long time. Remember their names. Remember your name. In the movie Spirited Away, the witch Yubaba changes Chihiro’s name to Sen. Chihiro is told that when she forgets her real name she will forget who she is. Don’t forget your name; even if they make a new name for you, never let anyone take your name away. Say it every day, write it down, keep it safely tucked inside your heart; it is your prayer to yourself, your parents, your ancestors.

Perhaps you, like many of us, will have adults and institutions and organizations and agencies and countries who will destroy all evidence of who you once were in an effort to make you palatable to those who hate everything you stand for – your foreignness, vulnerability, your youthful hope for a better world. Maybe you will be fortunate and have people caring for you who will love and treat you with care and compassion. Some of you will not. We, the disappeared children, know that it’s all the luck of the draw to whom and where you land.

In twenty years time, seek us out. We will be there for you. We are here now. We exist. Many people see you right now as small and vulnerable and cute; you will not always be seen this way. The bigger you get, the more they will no longer like you. Even if you lose your accent and cut all ties with your culture of origin. You will be simultaneously invisible in terms of your needs, and hyper-surveilled, in terms of your behavior. It will be a difficult journey, but remember we are here. And no matter where you end up, do what Mr. Rogers advised and ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ 

When you are ready, we will encourage you to tell your story in whatever way makes sense – through poems or music or paintings or tattoos or film or food or work or in the ways you live and love people.

We, your community of displaced children, love you for who you are and where you came from. You will never need to apologize. You might feel pressured to be the shining, perfect example of an “American.” But you do not need to lose your accent or change your name or say the pledge of allegiance or hang a flag on your house or get a specific occupation to prove your worthiness to us.

We see you

With love and solidarity,

The Current and Former Displaced Children of the World

Korean adoptee film, The Return

Last weekend I was very lucky to have the opportunity to preview the film, The Return, and interview the lead actor Karoline Sophie Lee. The film by Danish Korean Adoptee Maline Choi was shown as part of the Seattle International Film Festival. A friend of mine asked me to co-interview and co-write a piece because of my positionality and research and I am so thankful. I hope that this film gets released to a wider audience and that everyone has the chance to see it.


Here is the link to my piece in the International Examiner.

Mother’s Day as an adoptee


It’s that time of year again. If you know me at all, you know that I’m not a fan of over-sentimentalized holidays that have been so overly commercialized that non-participation now ensures you just look like a social a-hole.

The photo here is of an awful, racist card that I picked up at a cute little boutique in Minneapolis a couple of years ago. I bought it and saved it as a reminder that this holiday is, in so many ways, really really problematic.

I will admit that it was nice to have my kids make me breakfast and cards on Mother’s Day and I always recognize my mom and my fantastic mother-in-law on this day. I consider myself very fortunate that I can – many people can’t for any number of reasons.

So, here is my standard Mother’s Day recognition:

Today, I recognize and honor all of the mothers of loss, those who didn’t get the opportunity or recognition to mother their children because of death, adoption, incarceration, estrangement or other reasons. On this day I also hold up everyone who has experienced mother-loss; those of us who have a mother or mother-figure we are unable to wish a Happy Mothers Day to because of death, adoption, incarceration, estrangement or other loss. Let’s take the time to reach out to our friends and family who may need extra support today.

And finally, please – if you’re tempted to make or purchase a card like this one – just don’t do it.

“Forever families” returning adopted children

I follow a well-known re-adoption site on Facebook. For a few years now, I’ve been following this site, after the Reuter’s re-homing story came out, and I was looking to see if there were similar sites on Facebook. This site, which I am not naming (but others in the linked blog posts below have) is not a re-homing site in the strict sense because these re-adoptions are supervised under an agency. However, the result is largely the same – children who were placed in their “forever family” are now living with the reality that that “forever family” isn’t at all “forever” but just another temporary pit-stop in their already bumpy road to long-lasting, securely attached relationships. Most of these children, from reading the descriptions, have behaviors that the current/recent adoptive family finds too problematic. Sometimes, these are because of disabilities, but it is hard to know that for sure.

For the past few years I’ve been tracking the postings on this site, collecting data that I hope to analyze at some point. A couple of weeks ago one of the postings caught my eye because of the time span involved. A child was adopted from China, and the adoptive parents were seeking a new home for this child after less than two months. From other commentary I read online it seems likely that the adoptive parents knew they were not going to keep this child and had planned to try to “re-adopt” her once she arrived in the U.S.

pid_23481I happen to also be reading a book I just learned about, by Leslie K. Wang, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at University of Massachusetts Boston. Wang’s book, Outsourced Children: Orphanage Care and Adoption in Globalizing China, discusses the movement of Chinese children – particularly girls – to U.S. and other Western countries for adoption and about the boys and disabled children left behind, cared for largely by “donations” resulting from the adoption fees. For the past several years, the availability of “healthy infant” girls from China has been very, very low. It’s pretty well known now that most of the children available for intercountry adoption from China are “special needs” so I would have hoped that this family had worked with an adoption agency that had helped them understand that any child they adopt would be highly likely to have one or more disabilities. Then again, from my own research and that of Liz Raleigh and others, we know agencies are not always helping prospective adoptive parents understand this reality.

The post on this Facebook group was particularly difficult to read; the adoptive parents who decided they didn’t want to care for this girl nonetheless had a lot of demands for who they thought should adopt – including, “her current family will consider a new family who is Evangelical Christian and committed to teaching Sophia about the love of Christ and how to have a personal relationship with Jesus.” Interesting, that the family who is giving her up, has so much power to decide what type of family to whom they will release the child. I’d say the parent’s religion is less important than finding parent(s) who won’t re-home her would be ideal, yes?

The re-adoption post for this little girl from China was making the rounds at the same time as a UK adoptive parent’s first-person account of returning two children back to the child welfare system after four months.

Four months.

Two months.

Much of my current research looks at and analyzes adoption displacements – temporary or permanent placements of adoptees from their adoptive families. In both of these cases, the adoptive parents argue that the agencies did not disclose medical histories and that the adoptive parents were not prepared for/did not have resources to manage their adopted child’s needs. I believe it – sometimes full knowledge is not disclosed; intentionally, because it’s not known, or because the agencies were unable to get the full information themselves. Sometimes out-of-home placement for treatment is needed. But to abandon that child you so faithfully and legally swore to parent “as if they were your own” in a court of law?

Many adoptive parents are strongly upset at the notion that they are not considered the “real” parent. If we are to consider all children, no matter how they came into the family, as just “our children” then I have a question for those who re-home or re-adopt their “child.” Would you re-home or place for adoption a child born to you after you discovered they had disabilities?

For more reading:

Red Thread Broken: Disrupted Adoption of Five-Year Old

Sunny J. Reed: Dear White Woman Who Returned Her Adopted Children and In Response to Those Who Support Returning Adopted Kids

[Cover image from Pinterest]