A Family Affair

Emma,

You have a birthday on Aug. 5, and you are from Zhanjiang in the Guangdong Province of China.

While we don’t know for sure what happened, I believe that your birth mother must have cared about you very much, but she couldn’t take care of a child as she wanted to. She kept you safe while you were with her, and I’ll always be grateful to her for that.

This is the letter that Emma Wasserman’s ’16 mother read to her at night for the first four years of her life. The letter, written in 1999, is part of a book that her mother made to further explain how she was adopted.

Wasserman sees the adoption book as a source of comfort.

“The book makes me smile,” Wasserman said. “I love how my mom made this and read it to me. It is so cute, and the drawings are adorable.”

China had a strict one-child policy meant to control the nation’s growing population size. Because of this law, newborn Wasserman was abandoned in a street and soon after taken to an orphanage. After three months, she was adopted by single mother Susan Wasserman, who had also adopted Annie ’13 in 1995.

Despite feeling loved by her family, Wasserman said it is easy to feel like an outsider.

“Sometimes I feel like I am a guest everywhere,” Wasserman said. “I was raised like a white girl, and my mom is white. And sometimes I forget that I am Chinese. I obviously identify with Chinese because I look Chinese, but I do not go into the culture that much.”

Wasserman said that sometimes the circumstances under which she was adopted can get to her.

“Sometimes, there will be split seconds where I feel separated by other people, but I also know that it is normal to feel like this way because I actually kind of am a stranger in my own family,” Wasserman said. “But it has never gotten to my head enough to be an issue.”

While Wasserman stands out among her family because of her race, Cayla Blachman ’15 said that most people can’t tell that she is adopted.

Blachman was adopted as an infant. Although it sounds unusual, she said that sometimes she forgets that she was ever adopted in the first place. She credits these feelings to the fact that it is all she has ever known.

She feels like she has a normal relationship with her mom and said that she loves her just as much as she would love her birth mother.

“For me, I was my mom’s child from the moment I was born,” Blachman said. “I think for kids whose parents die and then are put into foster care and are then adopted, their relationship with their adoptive parents is different and maybe less connected.”

If Blachman has any questions about her adoption, her mother answers them freely, she said.

“When I was younger, I asked questions like, ‘what are their names?,’ ‘do they have any other kids and where do they live?’” Blachman said. “So, I know their basic information, but there have never been bigger questions.”

Blachman said that the only time that her adoption ever comes up is when people ask about her father. She said that she then has to explain her adoption and that she’s never had a father.

Like Wasserman and Blachman, Jack Flaherty ’14 was raised by a single mother. Growing up, he felt more different due to having a single mother rather than the fact that he was adopted, he said.

“My mom has done an unbelievable job,” Flaherty said. “She told me what was going on and handled it really well. She has been unbelievable for me.”

Despite his mother’s efforts, Flaherty said he was confused upon finding out he was adopted.

“I did not really understand the situation,” Flaherty said. “I was not mad, just confused.”

Flaherty said that he has conflicted feelings about wanting to meet his birth parents.

“There are times when I do want to meet them and others when I really do not,” he said. “You kind of want to know who they are and what they do, but you do not really want to find out. It could go really well or really poorly.”

He said that he wants to know more now because he thinks he would be able to handle it better.

“I think if it were to go badly, it would not be as bad if I were younger,” Flaherty said. “It’s not like a burning desire of mine.”

Katie Zipkin-Leed ’15, who was adopted by gay couple Joseph Zipkin and Rick Leed, has visited her birth mother a few times and has contacted her somewhat irregularly. After her birth mother and her family moved out of the state, Zipkin-Leed has had limited contact with her. However, her birth mother and her adoptive parents have conversations over the phone and she comments on Zipkin-Leed’s Facebook activity.

“My parents met my birth mother when she was pregnant with me, and she already had three kids,” Zipkin-Leed said. “But what is interesting is that now she has adopted a kid from someone else. It does not bother me. I feel like she did something good for other people.”

“The weirdest story is that four years ago some person added me on Facebook and I had no idea who he was but our only mutual friend was my birth mom,” Zipkin-Leed said. “So I asked him who he was and how this was our only mutual friend. He was like ‘we have the same birth mom.’”

Even though she has contact with her biological mother, Zipkin-Leed said she knows nothing about her biological father.

“[There are] some thoughts of me wanting to know who he is,” Zipkin-Leed said. “But I am comfortable with our living situation and I am 17 and I have been living this way my whole life. I do not constantly think about it. I know he is out there but I do not care.”

Zipkin-Leed and her brother were adopted from separate families and have never felt isolated due to their unconventional family.

“I live in this liberal tiny bubble where I do not get any hate for my gay parents or adoption,” she said. “It is common now and no one really cares.”

Zipkin-Leed thinks she was about 5 years old when she realized that she was adopted.

“I knew that I had a different set of parents than other kids did by the time I was in kindergarten,” Zipkin-Leed said. “I do not remember being sat down and being told. I always knew it. I mean I have two dads, so I knew neither of them could have given birth to me.”

Zipkin-Leed thinks there is a common misconception that all children who were adopted were found in an orphanage. Like Blachman, Zipkin-Leed’s parents were waiting in the hospital to pick her up.

Science teacher Jim Brink adopted his first daughter, Lacey, at an adoption agency three weeks after her birth.

Both of Brink’s daughters, Lacey and Marissa, were adopted locally. Lacey’s mother is from Glendora, and Marissa’s mother is from Mexico, but gave birth to Marissa in Orange County. Both were adopted through Holy Family Adoption Services.

“For Lacey, the actual adoption was an emotionally charged process because the birth mom was actually there. The birth mother handed her to us physically,” Brink said.

Brink said he is open about the fact that his two daughters are adopted.

“They’ve known from the beginning,” Brink said. “That’s sort of the modern way of doing it. The covert part and keeping it secret and not letting anybody know is part of the past as far as I know. And because I think that children develop a stigma at that point if they don’t know. and “Why did you keep it a secret?” and “Is there something wrong with being adopted?” And so those questions have never come up at our house.”

Brink said he and his wife were required to fill out numerous papers as well as compile a profile in the form of a scrapbook in order to be considered for adoption.

“It’s what you call an open adoption,” Brink said. “You go through a fairly rigorous application process with a lot of papers with information on them, and then they have you put together a profile, which is essentially an annotated photo album. And they show that album to prospective birth mothers and the birth mother picks you.”

It’s important that his daughters have contact with other adopted kids, Brink said.

“We run this parents auxiliary that’s adjunct to the agency called Holy Family Adoptive Parents,” Brink said. “And about once a month, usually around a holiday, whatever holiday happens to fall that month, we usually gather with 15 to 20 families [who have adopted kids].”

Brink’s family, like many others, have created an environment in their home that leaves their adopted kids satisfied with their family dynamic.

“You have to be happy with the way you live,” Zipkin-Leed said. “You cannot live with what if this what if that? I think that is how I view things. I am very happy and comfortable with the people I am surrounded by.”

 

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