#IAMonemillion is an ongoing project to find creative ways to get to know the nearly one million international adopees worldwide.  Every story is unique.  What better way to express our individuality among such a large community than by sharing them one at a time?

We had a chance to connect with Kassaye, adopted from Ethiopia and co-creator of the podcast “Out of the Fog”:

Kassaye Berhanu-MacDonald,
credit: Juanita Giraldo Bueno

How do you identify yourself?
For pronouns, I use she and her because I am a cis-gendered woman. In terms of ethnicity, background and experience, I refer to myself as Ethiopian, Black, African person raised in the West.

Where you were adopted from, when and if you want to share any aspect of your life before adoption?
I was born in Northern Ethiopia in late 1985 or early 1986. The exact place and date is unknown to me.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the Eastern Townships (Abenaki territory) of Quebec but have lived in Tiohtià:ke, which is also unceded Indigenous territory colonially known as Montreal for the past 15 years.

What is your profession?
Currently a new mom, the rest is TBA!

I came to know a little about you from your podcast, “Out of The Fog,” what was the conversation you wanted to have in adoption that you were not hearing?
We wanted to bring more awareness to the political nature of family separation such as, (the idea) that adoption is about power and privilege and how this intersects with race, class, education and access to resources and supportive communities.

Is there a particular episode or guest that helps best exemplify this awareness?
I think every episode speaks to these issues to varying degrees. In terms of getting a glimpse into some of the experiences of mothers of adoption loss, I would listen to Episode 2 on Forgotten Mothers, however I think people should tune into whatever episode they feel attracted to or interested in.

Did doing the podcast change any of your perceptions of adoption, your own story or offer a new thought about adoption?
I learned so much about adoption through doing the podcast. For me, the biggest takeaway was how family (of origin) members, specifically mothers and fathers of adoption loss need to be listened to and supported more. I think there is more work around creating stronger ties with communities of family members of adoption loss as they continue to be very marginalized in the adoption conversation.

Are you doing anything adoption related now that the podcast is no longer?
I am mostly focusing on other things, however we are slowly working on finishing the anthology by Ethiopian adoptees, but we do not have a publication date yet. Another TBA!

What do you wish people would know about adoption that gets little air time?
That no matter what peoples’ experiences of adoption is, it is inherently based on economic inequality. Wealthy people do not “give up” their children – it is usually poor women who don’t have access to various forms of birth control or who do not have the means to care for their children. Knowing this, I think acknowledging the loss, pain and suffering of mothers (and other family members) is really crucial for our own healing journey and for theirs.

You’re a first time mom now, congratulations!  How has being adopted impacted your current understanding of motherhood?
I am still unpacking this, perhaps I will write about it in the future when I have a clearer understanding that I can articulate. At the moment, what I can say is this; I think mothers are all doing their best – we really learn as we go and our actions, choices, decisions come from our own experiences, conditioning, traumas, victories or accomplishments. I think being a mother really forces you to rethink and negotiate many things in life, so one of the most helpful things is having compassion for oneself, so that you can have compassion for others.

What’s the best part of being Ethiopian Canadian?
Quite frankly, for me it is about freedom. There are so many benefits to being a Canadian citizen, just having a passport that allows me to travel anywhere on the planet and come home to a stable country with an extremely diverse population and very good social policies is truly the best thing. For instance, paid maternity leave in Quebec is 12 months!

What is one way you honor either or both these cultural identities?
I don’t really identify culturally as Canadian since Canada is made up of so many peoples and cultures. We have Indigenous peoples whose cultures we may not even be aware of, but whose land we live on. That said, I feel influenced by all the cultures and languages I’ve been raised with or grown up or lived around which are: English, French, Spanish and Amharic. I love languages and culture, so I can say that I honor all these cultures and languages in different ways – whether it is through conversation, travel or food. I’m also part of a group of Ethiopian women (many of them mothers), where every month we get together to share a meal or do activities. I don’t really speak Amharic yet, but being in an Amharic environment definitely helps me improve my vocabulary. One of my goals is for my son and I to have functional spoken/written Amharic!

Email us at staff@iamadoptee.org if you would like to share your story with us.

The largest organization in the US for adoptees from China has historically been FCC (Families with Children from China) with chapters in almost every state.   While Taiwanese adoptees would be considered the pioneer group, many of whom are in middle age now, the first wave of adoptees mostly from mainland China are now emerging adulthood.  As this group of adoptees start to claim their own space in the adoption community, FCC is evolving and in New York, the first Adoptee Board of FCCNY was recently established.  Over the holiday break, Joy got to meet up with the President of this Adoptee Board, Lisa Gibson and fellow member, Rachel Berger-Hart (pictured) to talk about what they are hoping to do as they start to develop programming around the young adult Chinese adoptee community. Here is what they shared with IAMAdoptee….

L-R: Rachel Berger-Hart, Lisa Gibson, Joy Lieberthal

What is this new chapter of FCCNY and the purpose of its creation?
We are an adoptee-led entity consisting of Chinese adoptees 18+, created to focus on programming and creative outputs that are created for us, by us. FCCNY’s Adoptee Board was initiated in 2017 to build upon the existing resources within the FCC of Greater New York chapter, and to develop the foundation for, and provide the community with, a much needed Chinese adoptee-driven network.

What would you want the adoption community to know about this new board?
We are among the oldest Chinese transnational adoptees, with the largest of our population just beginning to come of age. There are spaces and narratives that have historically been run or told by our parents, other involved individuals, or the broader public who are generally unaware of our experiences. As we become adults there is opportunity for us to start creating and collaborating, which we have done and encourage others to do the same. Feel free to reach out and to learn more about who we are at fccny.org/adopteeboard.

What are some things we should be looking forward to?
More FCCNY and FCC events around the country, especially those that are adoptee-centered or led. Additionally, our FCCNY Board of Directors is transitioning to include more adoptees, with the immediate goal of consisting of at least 50/50 parents and adoptees, and eventually becoming entirely adoptee led. We are also looking forward to presenting at this summer’s KAAN conference in MN with our open session “Community Transition: Chinese Adoptee Leadership, Parent Supported”.

How do people get in touch with you?
Check out our FB for curated questions and content, in addition to our Instagram @fccny.
Send us an email at adopteeboard@fccny.org

Happy 2019! The United States and many countries in the West have just finished celebrating the holidays of Hannukah, Christmas and New Year’s Day.  Ethiopia and other countries following the Julian calendar, just celebrated their Christmas.  And most of Asia is waiting to celebrate the Lunar New Year, Year of the Pig!  

IAMAdoptee is grateful to all of you who shared your thoughts on how being adopted has impacted the way the holiday season affects you.

Presenting, a video conversation with international adoptees Katie Naftzger, LICSW and Kathy Sacco, LCSW and their wisdom on the challenges, the opportunities, the tough parts and the ways we can authentically navigate the holiday season.

With gratitude and collaboration with Connect-a-Kid.

Here’s what Connect-a-Kid Board Chairman Kim Hanson had to say about the holidays:

  • Holiday traditions for me are always a special place even if I wasn’t checked in with my family growing up. But the holidays I appreciated more when I left the house and went to college. Thanksgiving to Christmas always holds a special place for me. Even if I do not have the holiday cookings unless I go home and my sister cooks I will always have fond memories of my mom’s cooking. Certain dishes always will carry heart warming memories. Her cranberry salad with marshmallows, her stuffing, her yams, mash potatoes and gravy, her lefse all of which we eat at Christmas time too. Easter is there but not like Thanksgiving or Christmas. New Years never held a special time for the family so never had a fondness for NYE myself. So what have I kept for my son?  I make it a point to go back every year for my son so he experiences all the things I did. My mother has Alzheimer’s and getting worse and why she doesn’t cook anymore. But it is a tradition that I take him back during these holidays. Now that I am divorced it is harder to take him back but I like it that now we alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas for him. I started a Father Son Christmas dinner and Star Wars Advent Lego Calendar. Writing this with a glass of wine listening to Xmas music. Which by the way I listen to year round as it brings me back to my childhood days even if I wasn’t checked in or wasn’t close to my family growing up. Something I guess I always yearned for inside of me. – Kim Hanson, adopted from Korea
  • How I get through the holidays…well, it’s not an issue anymore for me. I think I struggled with the holidays throughout my young adulthood because I was attached to some idea of how the holidays should be or how they should unfold. As a child, I had SO much fun on Christmas day. It was just about playing games with my siblings and cousins – having wrapping paper wars after we’d opened the gifts, playing outside in the snow aka getting thrown in big snow banks, building forts or going sliding. I also really enjoyed eating my grandmother’s apple pies! But, when my grandparents passed away and my siblings started having their own families or moving away, Christmas changed – we could no longer get together as a family anymore. At this point in my life, I was also dealing with conflicting feelings about being adopted and being separated from my culture of origin and its traditions…so, I found myself feeling unhappy about what I lost (Christmas no longer being the same) and also what I felt was taken from me (Ethiopian traditions). Needless to say, the holiday season became a dark period for me. I felt depressed for quite a few years. What changed for me has been working to accept all the losses – not just around Christmas but all year ’round! I find the biggest barrier to acceptance is resistance and I had a lot of it! It has definitely been a process of intense self-help or what I like to call self-development! It’s a work in progress, but I can now say that I appreciate the holidays more now because I don’t have expectations of what they should look like. – Kassaye Berhanu-Macdonald, adopted from Ethiopia and creator of “Out of the Fog” podcast
  • I love going home for the holidays! I seldom get to visit for extended periods of time, so when I can I try to spend as much time as possible with my niece and nephews. My best moments with my (adoptive) parents always hinge on how much patience, honesty and direct communication we employ with each other. In the frenzy of festivities this can be trying, but we give it our best shots! Something I look forward to every Christmas break is when the whole family casually, inevitably, lolls around my parents’ kitchen counter and we gab and joke for hours.  – Michaela K. Dietz, adopted from Korea
  • The holidays is bittersweet for me.  I love all the festivities, the lights, the music and the good will that is encouraged.  I grew up with a love of baking Italian cookies and German apple pie.  Still, the proverbial assumption that I am going to my (adoptive) home for Thanksgiving and Christmas always gives me heartburn.  The performance of the Holidays, that as an adoptee, one is gratefully going “home” makes me sweat a little. I’ve mastered the pivot really well without giving a whole answer and listen with a Mona Lisa smile as others relay their family holiday plans.  – Joy Lieberthal, adopted from Korea
  • I’ve always enjoyed the holidays but of course, they become more complicated as you get older, and I do dread that aspect. Now that I’m married, we have to balance time between “his” and “hers.” Additionally, my birth family reunion makes me long to be in Korea around this time of year. All the while, we try to maintain our own family traditions. In recent years, we have chosen to shed the expectations of others and spend our time doing the things we most enjoy. While it can be misconstrued as selfish, we prefer to spend the holidays celebrating in our own way versus in an airport or driving hundreds of miles just because that’s what you’re “supposed” to do this time of year. – Whitney Fritz, adopted from Korea
  • Making new traditions with my family — children and husband — and keeping those traditions from my adoptive family that I treasure and skipping those that I don’t — allows me to re-write and re-create the holidays to what I want them to be. – Hollee McGinnis, adopted from Korea
  • The holidays hold a duality that is both emotionally liberating and challenging. I can hold several of these conflictual emotions at once–and continually learn how important it is to be kinder, gentler, and loving to those parts of myself during this season. I do not claim home in the same way. . .home is with my children, spouse, and our chosen family. Several years ago, my husband and I made the difficult, yet intentional choice to remain in absentia. Family should not break down your body, back, or spirit. As an adoptee, the concept of family is complicated, but it is also specific–that as I came into myself (especially as a mother), I owned choice–and I owe it to no one to explain further. Living in ambiguity and tension is familiar to so many of us–myself included. Adoptees are assumed to be ever-grateful to their adoptive parents and the world around them. There is an expectation that we share personal tidbits with others based on our adoption-status combined with the assumption that our adopt families are not human, flawed, and in some cases toxic and harmful. Grounded in those assumptions tend to be gratefulness and exceptionalism. There is difference between gratefulness and gratitude. Adoptees can extend gratitude for the loved ones in our lives along with the opportunities that have been bestowed to us, but we do not have to assign the act of gratefulness to anyone or anything specifically unless we choose (that is a sacred, personal space that does not have to be publicized at anyone’s behest). Societal pressure to embody unrealistic “Hallmark” moments within family will always be a tightrope act, How/whom I choose to share our holiday plans with is personal. Today, the ones who get an invitation to our shared table are not out of obligation or pleasantries, but through delight, enjoyment, and authenticity. I’ve found that the more genuine we become, the more we attract those in our lives that can hold these spaces really, really well–and learn to re-parent those parts of ourselves and allow others to do the same. We celebrate our chosen family as well as family (by marriage) who have remained loving, steadfast, and supportive without caveats or demands. – Melanie Chung-Sherman, adopted from Korea
  • As an adult, the memories of holidays that resonate strong are the self-implicated obligations and stress of having a perfect Norman Rockwell Christmas. My mother’s good intentions for a  picture perfect Christmas ended being stressful and not very enjoyable. Now that I have a family of my own, I keep holiday traditions very light. I partake on what I like, such as caroling, presents, music, and time with friends. I don’t do anything that doesn’t bring myself and family joy. – Anna Hu, adopted from Korea
  • For holidays, I bring my partner of 10 years wherever I go, and we support each other in our losses.  I also take time for myself when I need it.  Traditions I love was making wontons with my dad (who has passed), making sweet potato pie / potato salad the way my mother-in-law taught me (she also passed), and going to see my mom and sister. – Taneka Jennings, adopted from Korea