Today our guest is Julian Kelly from Maryland, USA. Julian is an adoptee who struggled with her own adoption since childhood searching for closure, identity, and sense of belonging. She is the director and creator of the documentary "Almost Family".
What is the reality shown in your documentary film "Almost Family"?
The reality shown in the film is that adoption is complicated. There are some wonderful adoption stories out there, but also some stories in which adoptees were harmed as a direct result of their adoptions, by being placed with predators and abusers. Not all adoptees can process what has happened to them with ease. While adoptive parents often celebrate their adoptions, adoptees sometimes struggle with complex emotions. ‘Almost Family’ gives viewers a window into what those emotions sometimes look like. Adoption isn’t a one-time decision. It is a permanent solution with life-long consequences, which go on for generations.
How relevant is the story in the documentary to your personal struggle with adoption as an adoptee?
Extremely relevant. I decided to create the documentary film as a means of seeking closure and healing from my own adoption wounds and traumas. The documentary focuses on my story and then uses my personal journey as a jumping off point to delve into many other adoption issues. I’m surrounded by a group of very diverse adoptees, and I wanted to give a voice to their stories. For instance, my husband Charlie Coppola-Zahavi (the film’s producer who is also featured in the movie) is a transgender adoptee. I wanted to tell the adoption stories that are frequently overlooked by mainstream outlets. We were able to use our lives and experiences as a resource.
In your opinion, is it better to inform the adoptee about their biological parents or will it hurt them more to reveal the truth?
Parents can greatly lesson adoptees shock and pain, by telling them that they are adoptees as young children. There are books specifically designed to facilitate adoption discussions with young children. For instance, there’s a great book by activist Pam Kroskie called “Jack & Emma’s Adoptee Journey”. I would suggest that parents read adoption-focused books to young adoptees throughout childhood, and establish a habit of having open conversations about their feelings surrounding their adoption. When children ask questions about their biological parents- be honest.
When is the best time and what are the key considerations?
Researchers are suggesting that the earlier the child is told, the better. Parents need to have the emotional maturity to be both transparent and truthful with their child about their adoption. Parents also need to understand that their child may grieve for their family of origin. Grieving this loss is quite natural, and it is important that the adoptive family supports the adoptee throughout the grieving process. Even adoptees that were relinquished at birth may experience intense feelings of loss. Don’t compound this trauma by trying to deceive an adopted child about their origins.
All adopted persons deserve access to their original birth certificates, because having accurate biographical information is a basic human right. When you try to deceive an adoptee about their origins, you deny them this basic right.
What kind of preparations the adoptive parent(s) should take and make before making the decision to adopt?
Before adopting, parents should really take a personal inventory and ask themselves if they are doing this because they want to help a child, or if they are using the child to fill a void or lacking in their lives. Children are human beings, and not objects. It is important to really respect the cultural identity of the adoptee and to give them a safe place to land. You also need to be prepared for the possibility that your child might develop reactive attachment disorder or major depression at some point in life. You have to ask yourself if you’re prepared and capable of providing a safe space for this child who has already sustained substantial trauma by losing their first family. Are you emotionally able to deal with the intense feelings that adoption sometimes evokes? Can you love your adopted child unconditionally? Can you support your child’s need to find their biological relatives one day, if the adoptee decides they need closure?
It is also really important to talk to other individuals within your family. My paternal adoptive grandmother treated me much differently than she treated her biological grandchildren. You don’t want to bring a child into a situation in which they will feel alienated by other members of the family.
Talk to adoptees in adoption advocacy groups. Be sure to collect a wide variety of opinions from adopted persons, and don’t rely on adoption agencies for all of your information. Agencies have a vested interest in getting you to adopt- often because they profit financially. Because of this, many agencies won’t paint a complete picture for you. Read books like “The Primal Wound” by Nancy Verrier and become active on adoptee support forums.
Go to our website- AlmostFamilyMovie.com and order the film. Discuss it with your family.
What would you want to share the most to help people or couples preparing for an adoption?
Remember that the child is only available to you, because something very unfortunate happened in their lives. Give your child space to grieve the loss of their original family. Also, understand that birthdays and holidays can be very triggering times for adoptees. For many adoptees, their birthdays are also the day they were relinquished.
Adoption is not for the faint of heart. At the time of adoption, you can’t predict or foresee the way in which your adoption journey will progress.
How important is closure, identity and sense of belonging especially for adoptees?
For me, closure was paramount. Identity greatly affects the way you move through the world, and a having sense of belonging has deep implications for the ways in which we attach and bond to other people. Being an adoptee has impacted virtually every area of my life. Sometimes, I’m more sensitive to rejection than other people are. Sometimes, minor events trigger overwhelming feelings of abandonment in me.
As an adopted person, I see myself and the world very differently than a non-adopted person might. I accept the notion that strangers can sometimes be very benevolent, and that sometimes those to whom we are genetically related can hurt us the most.
When does the movie ‘Almost Family’ come out?
The movie should be available for download on our website by December 1st, 2015.
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