Join host Pete Cudney and guest Nam Holtz as they explore some of the complexity of adoption and transracial adoption. Adoption is complicated, transracial adoption even more so. In this conversation Nam highlights the importance of examining some of our taken for granted assumptions, and the need to have open and sometimes uncomfortable conversations to best support children and families involved in adoptions.
Meggin (Nam) Holtz, LMSW
Nam, is a Korean adoptee. Nam has been involved in adoption advocacy, awareness, and support for over a decade. Her award-winning documentary film, “Found in Korea,” about birth search, country of origin travel, identity, and adoption was created to serve as a catalyst for conversations about adoption among youth and adults. She served as the Teen Mentor facilitator at “All Together Now,” a support group for adoptees and their families, wrote, “Who Cut My Umbilical Cord?” published in “Flip the Script,” and holds an MSW from Silberman School of Social Work. Nam comes from a performing arts background and enjoys bringing creativity into her work. Nam is currently working in a private practice with adopted people and their families, and also continues macro work towards adoption reform and education as a public speaker.
Pete Cudney, LICSW
Pete is a Training and Coaching Specialist at VT-CWTP. Prior to this role, Pete practiced clinically, providing therapy for children and families impacted by complex trauma, evaluating children for the impacts of trauma, and training agencies on trauma informed care.
Cassie Gillespie (00:02):
Hello, I’m Cassie Gillespie. And you’re listening to Welcome to the Field podcast produced by the University of Vermont’s Child Welfare Training Partnership, and the State of Vermont. Welcome to the Field is designed for child welfare workers, caregivers, and community partners. However, this season, we will be talking all about uncomfortable conversations and each episode will touch on a different type of uncomfortable conversation. So even if you’re not working or caregiving in the child welfare field, this season might be for you. Today, Pete Cuney interviews Nam Holts about some of the complexity of adoption and transracial adoption. Nam Holtz is a Korean adoptee and has been involved in adoption advocacy, awareness, and support for over a decade. Her award-winning documentary film Found in Korea about birth search, country of origin travel, identity and adoption was created to serve as a catalyst for conversation about adoption among youth and adults.
Cassie Gillespie (01:05):
Nam has served as the teen mentor facilitator at Altogether Now, a support group for adoptees and their families, and is also an author. She wrote Who Cut my Umbilical Cord and published in Flipped the Script. Nam holds an MSW from Silverman School of Social Work and comes from a performing arts background and enjoys bringing creativity into her work. Nam is currently working in private practice with adopted people and their families, and also continues to work towards adoption reform and education as a public speaker. In her conversation with Pete, Nam highlights the importance of examining some of our taken for granted assumptions and the need to have open and sometimes uncomfortable conversations to best support children and families involved in adoption. Here we go.
Pete Cudney (01:51):
Thanks Cassie. And to listeners to Welcome to the Field welcome to this episode. My name’s Pete Cudney, I’m a clinical social worker. I’m one of the staff at the University of Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership. And I am feeling so fortunate to have a chance to talk with Nam Holtz today about the complexity of adoption in addition to being a fellow social worker and a fellow family therapist Nam and I also have another connection. Nam is also my sister-in-law. She’s the little sister of my wife, Amy, right Nam?
Nam Holtz (02:29):
Pete Cudney (02:30):
So full disclosure. We have a very personal connection, as well as our professional connection. Nam, as Cassie highlighted in the opening introduction to this episode, you have a broad range of both personal and professional experience directly related to adoption. Would you share with our listeners a bit of your background and your work related to adoption?
Nam Holtz (02:54):
Sure. Thanks for having me here. First of all. So I am a Korean adoptee again, full disclosure, adopted in infancy. I produced and directed a documentary film that Cassie mentions called Found in Korea. And it’s about birth search, country of origin travel, identity and adoption. And I made it so youth and adults could open up the door for conversations about adoption. And I’m also a clinical social worker who works primarily with transracially adopted folks and their families. And I facilitated a teen mentorship group, which actually led me to get my master’s degree, which is why I do the work I now do was just on the planning committee for the adoption initiative conference, which is a combination of both academia and activism. So in best practices in adoption, which is really cool, just had its 10th biennial event, which was pretty amazing actually. And I, I mean, I do public speaking and I do as much education and advocacy as I possibly can. So I’m super excited to be here and have this uncomfortable conversation.
Pete Cudney (04:06):
Right, right. Uncomfortable conversations about adoption. Yeah, your, your film. I’ve been fortunate enough to see it. I can’t speak highly enough of it. And am I right? That when that shows you often attend the, the screening and then you may facilitate some kind of dialogue afterward.
Nam Holtz (04:24):
Yes, I do. And I, I always tell the three main reasons I made the film and I love to interact with audience questions and it’s a great way to get a personal story, even more personal. So people really, really, really remember it.
Pete Cudney (04:38):
Yeah. And if I’m not mistaken, you’re bringing that film here to Vermont in August. Is it August 12, maybe
Nam Holtz (04:44):
It’s the Friday. It’s the Friday.
Pete Cudney (04:46):
Yeah. So if, if listeners are curious, do a little Google search, the Child Welfare Training Partnership is really pleased to be hosting a screening of Nam’s film Found in Korea in August.
Nam Holtz (04:59):
Yes. And I’ll be there for a Q and A afterwards, too. So that would be really, really exciting in person event.
Pete Cudney (05:05):
I’m looking forward to it. So I would imagine in all these different forms for discussion, you know, whether it’s with your film, with your, your clients in therapy with teen groups that you’ve probably encountered a wide range of people’s understanding related to adoption in general. I would imagine that there are some people for whom it’s really a lived experience. They may have a very nuanced understanding of adoption. Do you think people make assumptions about adoption? What, what should people be thinking about in, in terms of just understanding adoption generally?
Nam Holtz (05:37):
Yes. I definitely feel in the work that I do in the conversations that I’ve had, that I hear a lot of assumptions about adoption on a daily. And I think like on a really basic level that people really need to be thinking about the fact that not only can adoption provide all of these positives and supports, but adoption also comes with so much loss. And sometimes that’s just glossed over in the conversations about adoption, you know, people just say, oh, that’s so wonderful. You adopted, oh, that’s so great. You’re such, or, you know, there’s, there’s all of that mindset and the saviorism that goes with it, people very oftentimes forget the fact that in order for that youth to be adopted that youth and that family had to undergo some tremendous experiences to put them in that position. And I, you know, the very word adoption is even it starts at the adoption. It doesn’t even go back before the adoption.
Pete Cudney (06:37):
Right, right. Yeah. So the, the term that we use to kind of capture this phenomenon, right. You’re saying adoption, it, it kind of, in our mind, it establishes a narrative that begins with this new connection of relationship and doesn’t even acknowledge all that came before it. Oh, I had never even thought about it that way now. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. And do people make general assumptions? Do you think about why parents who have either chosen to relinquish their parental rights or, or perhaps their journey has involved that against their own choice? I’m, I’m imagining right. That there are different do people in the general public just make assumptions about the reasons do you think that parents have come to this place of relinquishing their rights and their having their children adopted?
Nam Holtz (07:21):
I think there’s tons of judgment and tons of preconceived notions about why a child has ended up either in the system or as an infant. You know, there’s so many assumptions about birth families, original families. And it’s actually something that we really need to talk about because those families, even if they have done things or things have happened that make it so may they might not be the best to support that child. We need to talk about the reasons why they don’t have those supports.
Pete Cudney (07:52):
Yeah. So culturally, socially, we need to talk about that. And then are you also, are you suggesting that the child who’s going through that experience needs to understand what has happened? Is that what you’re talking about
Nam Holtz (08:03):
As well? Oh, I, oh, I definitely think that children should age appropriately know as much about their own story as possible. And many, many people make the assumption that they need to be protected from their own stories, which I think in the long run does a great injustice to not only the child, but also the relationship with everyone else. That’s not telling them their full story.
Pete Cudney (08:26):
Yeah. I’m getting the sense that these are maybe difficult conversations or maybe people don’t even recognize the need to have these conversations. Is there, what’s your sense of that? Is there a degree that the subject is taboo or is it not taboo, but people just have misconceptions about what children need? What, what’s your sense?
Nam Holtz (08:44):
There’s such a wide range. I think that of people like some, some folks that I work with have youth, you know, that are very, very young and they’re having these conversations with their kids and they, they recognize that their kids can totally take in the information that they’re giving them. And some folks are saying, oh, I’m, I’m waiting till they’re this old or waiting till they can understand this. And I, and I always say, you know, we don’t credit kids with enough. They know so much more than we think they do. And I do think that there’s this general sense of, of, well, I’m just gonna use the word saviorism in adoption that this is a better situation. Permanency is always better. Like all of these assumptions, which I don’t particularly agree with in every case, every case is really particular nuanced. And so making that general sweep of saying something like permanency is better. You know, permanency is the goal. We’re forgetting a lot of pieces and a lot of individual pieces of information along the way. I think I lost my tra my train of thought a little bit, but getting back to what people think about protecting their kids, once they have been put in another situation, I, I really think age appropriate conversations that are definitely difficult and dependent on that child. Yeah. Again, everyone’s individual,
Pete Cudney (10:06):
Nam Holtz (10:07):
It’s like the most important thing to be doing.
Pete Cudney (10:10):
Yeah. Yeah. No, I think what you were saying tracked perfectly we’ve been talking about whether it’s taboo, whether people don’t don’t even necessarily, you know, know that they need to bring their children into the story and, and at what age, and I, if I’m really hearing what you’re saying, it’s that adoption, isn’t just adoption. Like if we try to generalize and say to ourselves, oh, I understand adoption. We’re really missing the key point, which is that every child’s situation, every family’s situation and transition for that child from one family to another is unique.
Nam Holtz (10:43):
Absolutely. And adoption, not only like I am an adopted person, I’ve been studying adoption for over a decade and I’m still learning about adoption. So we do not know what’s going on with adoption. And the fact that children grow up, like I’m an adult adopted person and I’m still learning so much. And it doesn’t end once that child reaches a certain age, my identity as an adopted person has been morphing forever and forever will .
Pete Cudney (11:14):
Yeah. Right. Yeah. So, so you continue to learn how your own sense of yourself and sense of the world has been impacted by your experience as an adoptee. Is that what you mean?
Nam Holtz (11:23):
Pete Cudney (11:24):
Yeah. So it’s not even so much that we pay attention to these conversations and have them once or twice when, when kids are young, we need to keep returning and be open to the dialogue with, with children as they’re growing, because they’re returning to reexamine, who am I as a first grader? Who am I as an eighth grader? Who am I as a, as a college student, right?
Nam Holtz (11:44):
Yes, yes. And so many things like I’ll just bring up one, one little example. So many things that people make assumptions about that should be a happy thing for an adopted person. It’s really a challenge. For instance, a birthday, birthday parties are supposed to be like the most fun thing in the world for kids and for an adopted person, it can bring up so much stuff that they feel very isolated and alone, cuz they don’t even have the words to necessarily understand, explain what they’re feeling. Right. But a birthday, you know, it’s the day that they’re connected to their birth family, their birth mother, it’s the one day that maybe they’re thinking specifically about that. And so in and amongst a child’s celebration, it can be very, very confusing.
Pete Cudney (12:25):
That makes so much sense. Especially if the adoptive parents from using the terms, right, right. The adoptive parents don’t recognize that or aren’t comfortable themselves with having a day that both celebrates their love for that child. We’re so glad you were born on this day, however many years ago. And also not even just create space, but signals and maybe there’s some other feelings you have and maybe there’s some other conversations that we need to have about, about this day with what this brings up for you, how often in your experience are adoptive parents understanding and, and prepared to have those kinds of conversations with kids like on their birthday for example.
Nam Holtz (13:05):
It’s very, very, very rare that they’re aware that those things, those conversations could possibly be very supportive for their youth. And, but, you know, usually with best intentions, once it’s explained it’s very easily incorporated. Right, right. It’s really, it’s really a beautiful thing to see that, oh, that light goes on. Oh my gosh. And like, you know, a lot of international adoptee don’t even know their actual birth date, myself included. So that’s always really an intense thing. So I end up calling it my birthday zone, you know, but again, these are things that can get sprinkled in to the conversation, to, and being wary of not normalizing it to the point where that it feels so normal that it’s not something that should be important. Yeah. But but being, having the door open and just recognizing it and acknowledging it is so powerful.
Pete Cudney (13:56):
Yeah. It, it sounds like what you’re saying is that once parents have been guided to recognize the importance of this, that in your experience they do, and they very frequently have the skills to have those conversations with their children. So it’s, it’s not something that we should treat as taboo, but maybe, maybe it’s the surrounding supports the system. If you will agencies that are involved in the process, how do, how do we do, you know, we’re you and I are social workers, we’re a part of that system. How are we doing? How’s the system doing at helping biological parents who maybe relinquishing voluntarily or against their will, if it’s a termination of parental rights, something like that. How are we doing at talking with those parents talking with adoptive parents at talking with children at different ages, facilitating those conversations.
Nam Holtz (14:47):
I think some places do a much better job than others. I think that overall we’re not doing a good enough job.
Pete Cudney (14:55):
Yeah. again, probably out of what you were talking about a, an oversimplified narrative about adoption and adoption, primarily as being permanency something to celebrate that, that kind of saviorism probably connected, I would imagine to a white supremacy culture. Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. And, and in terms of the child’s experience, could you just talk a little bit more about why these conversations are, are important for, for that child?
Nam Holtz (15:23):
Well, in my experience, working with youth and, and from my own experience, it just makes you feel seen it, you know, we’re trying to treat, you know, the, one of the old schools of thought, you know, we might get into this a little bit later, but like the colorblind school of thought that we don’t see color, we just see you. We love you. Love is enough. We know that’s detrimental. We know that’s actually not seeing that individual for who they are and causes a lot of pain with the identity work. And we’re trying to treat this person that came into the family as the, you know, the adoptee as a normal family member and they are in all respects, but they’re also different, right? There’s an extra situation that you need to acknowledge in order for that child to be seen as fully them.
Nam Holtz (16:12):
Yeah. And that acknowledgement and, you know, people don’t know what to do necessarily. People don’t know what to say, but just starting the acknowledgement is means so, so much. In the process of growing up as an adopted person, you know, you’re adopted, hopefully, I mean, there all are some people who keep it a secret. Yeah. but in the fact that, you know, you’re adopted, it can be a very confusing thing to comprehend, especially as a young person, it’s actually really interesting to see youth who are not adopted, try to comprehend adoption too. It’s really interesting thing. But you know, an identity formation, the fact that you’re not getting direct biological mirroring is always something that is a fact. And if it’s acknowledged, you might feel a little bit better. You might feel a little more at ease. Cause you know, it, the young adopted person knows it . Yeah. So just acknowledging something as basic as that is going to lower anxiety levels, which is gonna be instrumental in focus and all this, all everything, you know?
Pete Cudney (17:16):
Yeah, yeah. Let’s, let’s move into your area of focus, not just adoption in general, but transracial adoption. So as we’ve been talking, you know, adoption, isn’t just adoption. Every situation is unique. And, and then within this broad range of different, you know, possible adoption experiences, there’s this kind of subset of transracial adoption. And, and I would imagine there are a variety of paths there, right? There’s there’s international transracial adoption, which is your experience. There’s through the child protection system in the United States. There are children whose parents’ parental rights have been terminated and then they may be adopted transracially as well. And then I don’t know if there are other systems domestically as well as the international system, but so we, even within transracial adoption, every situation’s gonna be unique, right? Every, every child and family story is, is gonna be unique. But what are some of the, from your experience, some of the important maybe kind of preconceived notions or assumptions that we have that we should pull back from and really start to reexamine as they relate to transracial adoption.
Nam Holtz (18:28):
So we can’t ignore race. That’s the biggest issue.
Pete Cudney (18:33):
Yeah, so this’s the, this is the color blind thing that you were talking about earlier. I don’t see color. Yeah. TA say a little bit more about that. Would you?
Nam Holtz (18:38):
Right. So if the majority of transracial adoptions are white adoptive parents adopting children of color and so white adoptive parents do not have the life experience or knowledge of being a person of color in this world and growing up as a person of color in this world, which is a huge issue. If you’re going to be raising a child and you need to think about that before anything else, are you going to be able to provide the community and the mirroring and the mentorship and the cultural, you know, everything that you’re gonna consider, that’s going to give that child what they need to understand who they are. It’s a lot.
Pete Cudney (19:23):
Nam Holtz (19:24):
And if you’re going to take it seriously, most places, most people do not have adequate supports that I see. It’s a real struggle.
Pete Cudney (19:32):
I would imagine that’s true. It’s certainly, you know, as a just I’ll, I’ll identify myself right. As a, as a white male American, and I’ve made a deliberate effort myself to, you know, to try to dive into developing greater awareness of my white privilege, my access to white supremacy culture, the presence of it around me, you know, how it affects who I am and how I interact with others. And it’s the tip of the iceberg. I mean, I’m, you know, I’m, I’m still so new in even seeing it, let alone understanding it. And there aren’t great support structures available to many white people. Right. We have to do the work it’s our work to do. So I would imagine that you’re right, that, you know, many white adopting parents don’t know what they don’t know and aren’t being guided when, if we’re not even having some of the basic conversations well about what does adoption mean and how do you have to talk to your children about their experience then laying over at the top of that, you know, the difficulty that many white people have with acknowledging race as even present.
Pete Cudney (20:38):
Yeah, I would, I would think there’s, that’s challenging.
Nam Holtz (20:40):
Absolutely. It’s very challenging because you have to do your own race work before you adopt. You have to, and then there’s also this layered in complexity of being a transracial adoptee in a white family, we can put that in quotes. Yeah. And, and the privileges that come with that. Okay. It’s very confusing. There’s lots of codes switching there’s, but yet when the adopted person goes out in the world by themselves, they don’t have this white family that they’re with. It’s very layered.
Pete Cudney (21:10):
Nam Holtz (21:11):
It’s very complex. And that needs, these conversations need to happen.
Pete Cudney (21:15):
Okay. And so with the first set of conversations that we were talking about, we were saying that most parents, if you, if you bring to their awareness, you know, the importance of talking to their children about the fact that they’re adopted and helping them on their birthday, for example, you know, explore both sides of what that might mean. We came to the idea that those aren’t super difficult conversations for the parents to have. You just need to kind of raise their awareness of it as a white person who struggles to talk about race. I would imagine that’s not as simple in these transracial adoption conversations. Okay.
Nam Holtz (21:50):
Not as simple, not as simple there’s so much out there, however, written by adult transracial, adoptees, okay. That we have this plethora of information and voices that it is, they are really powerful and they have all of these different experiences. So, you know, there’s a whole generation of international and transracial adoptees that have grown up and have voices of their own that are sharing their experiences very, very generously. And I think that that is what people need to be tapping into as part of the work, but also it really exploring the privilege and how they can adopt another child even is like a very basic exploration to do the reasons behind their adoption. They need to understand why they did. They adopted, they adopt for infertility reasons. Did they adopt for other reasons to, you know, actually I wanna just bring up this one quote yeah. That by Dr. Joyce Pavo, I think I might be saying her last name wrong, but she always says adoption should be about finding families for children, not about finding children for families. And I love that quote and it puts things in perspective and, you know, adoption is going to be forever. There’s always gonna be some youth that need supports, but really changing your mindset to not serving yourself.
Pete Cudney (23:14):
Your own needs. Yeah. And I would, and I would imagine a lot of parents do come to adoption with some degree of, of self-interest of, you know, I, I want to have a child that loves me back, you know, I love and loves and who wouldn’t. Right. I mean that right. That’s kind of essential for, for the, the whole relationship to work. And yet, you know, if there is a degree of kind of saviorism that’s potentially there.
Nam Holtz (23:39):
Pete Cudney (23:39):
It sounds like what you’re saying is that if white adoptive parents are considering transracial adoption, that they really need to do some soul searching work on what does race mean? How do they understand race? How comfortable are they talking with anyone and especially a child they’re gonna adopt about race. And also, do they have any, maybe on unexamined elements of wanting to save a child, because that would be, I would imagine that would be a really complicated thing to be within a relationship that the child may pick up on at times.
Nam Holtz (24:13):
Mm-Hmm . And on top of that, are you willing to be in spaces that you are the minority?
Pete Cudney (24:19):
Yeah. Say more about that.
Nam Holtz (24:21):
Are you willing to be in spaces for your child where your child is in the minority, in the majority race? So they can have that experience because otherwise it’s unbalanced and it’s not real for that child’s world. And a lot of adoptive parents have a really hard time, not only just having access to that kind of a space. Yeah. But doing it, feeling comfortable with it. Yeah. Is a really, it’s a whole nother thing.
Pete Cudney (24:45):
Yeah. So I would imagine many transracially adopted families have white parents and a child who’s other than white. And, but those parents probably in many cases, live in a white community. The children attend predominantly white schools. And they’re surrounded by many people who are white and don’t even recognize their race or talk about race. And yet race is everywhere for them all the time. So would you recommend to parents, white parents who are considering transracial adoption that they might need to make significant lifestyle changes, they might need to move to a different community where.
Nam Holtz (25:21):
Pete Cudney (25:22):
Yeah. Yeah. So say a little bit more about the kinds of things that you would recommend for parents to really critically self-examine and choices they might make before, you know, moving forward.
Nam Holtz (25:30):
You know, if you’re really seriously able to do a move before, do the move before it happens before the adoption actually happens. So you can acclimate yourself and be comfortable there. You go to the spaces, go to the churches, go to wherever the, the games, the events, the every, I don’t know, you know?
Pete Cudney (25:51):
Yeah. Immerse yourself into that community, become a part of that community yourself.
Nam Holtz (25:54):
See how you feel. If you, if, if you feel weird, then you need to do work about it , you know. If you feel awkward or scared or, you know, like lots of things can come up, if you feel ashamed, if you feel whatever is coming up, that has to be worked through acknowledged. And then cuz because if you think that you can adopt a child and you’re having those feelings about being in that child’s community, that’s a recipe for disaster.
Pete Cudney (26:21):
Yeah. If you were to extend this to whatever degree you’re comfortable to your own lived experience, I would imagine that I’m just guessing here that you would probably say that, that your parents did the best that they knew to do. And when given guidance, you know, they, they took that guidance and, and they tried to do their best with that. And so some of it, as we’ve talked, talked about, comes back to service providers to offer the guidance right. To parents and, and not just guide, but really ensure that they’re, that they’re doing some of that work. But I would imagine also now that there were times where you didn’t feel quite as connected to your family and that some element of that may have been about adoption in general. And some element of that may have been about being a Korean in a white American family. Could you speak to that? Are you comfortable speaking to that at all?
Nam Holtz (27:11):
Yeah. I’m, I’m definitely comfortable speaking to that. I again, say yes, I agree with you. My family did the best they could with the information they were given, which was not enough. And I often was given the choice, you know, to go take Korean lessons. I chose ballet. Yeah. I was given the option to, you know, take Korean drumming. I chose trumpet, you know, . I was given these options and they didn’t push it. And I, I mean, I’m, I’m glad they didn’t, but I wish that I had some more knowledge of my own Korean, anything. I felt so I felt so embarrassed when I would go somewhere and be expected to be able to say a word in Korean. And I couldn’t, I, I think they did a great job by bringing Young Sue in to the house.
Nam Holtz (28:03):
That was a really big deal.
Pete Cudney (28:04):
Nam Holtz (28:05):
Young Sue was our foreign exchange student friend that lived in our house for a few years and still to this day is a family friend. And he, he was probably the first Korean person I ever spoke with more than once, you know? And we went to all the picnics, we went to all the, the gatherings. We went to adoptee gatherings. We did all that stuff. But yeah, I felt like a little island and obviously I had a younger brother who’s also adopted from Korea, but he and I were just kind of like looking around going, what the heck? where are we?
Pete Cudney (28:38):
Right. Yeah. Yeah. You’re kind of between cultures, right? Yeah. I don’t know that the opportunities would’ve existed or maybe they did, but would it have been different if your mom or your dad or both of them had said, let’s go learn Korean together. Would that have been different?
Nam Holtz (28:52):
Oh yeah. I mean, that would’ve been incredible. And I also, I say this, this is a hardcore one. I say this, if you’re adopting internationally, learn the language. I know that’s a lot to ask, but your child is coming to you. Having heard that language in utero, however long they’re in the wherever foster family or orphanage, it is a smoother transition if you can speak that child’s language.
Pete Cudney (29:15):
Oh gosh. Yeah. I hadn’t even thought about that. Yeah. Learn the language, visit that country? Would, would you encourage?
Nam Holtz (29:22):
Visit the country. Of course. I mean, you know, now it’s required that people go to the country to pick up their children, which is like the bare minimum. Yeah. So you see that country but I’m hardcore. I say, learn the language cuz you can’t help, but learn some cultural things when you’re learning a language. Yeah. But it’s just, it’s putting in the work to make the transition, which we all know transitions are horrifying for adopted people. So it makes that transition that much smoother and it keeps some of their identity and it brings you to them.
Pete Cudney (29:55):
In your work with youth adopted youth. What are some of the themes that have come up, you know, maybe more prevalently for, for different youth in terms of things that they’re trying to make sense of, especially in transracial adoptions.
Nam Holtz (30:09):
You know, a lot of the youth are in so many different places that I work with. Some of them talk about their adoptions, some of them do not want to talk about their adoption. I think the biggest question that is underlying is why was I given up? Why, why couldn’t my family keep me, was it, did I do something wrong? Is there something wrong with me? That’s a huge theme.
Pete Cudney (30:33):
Yeah. Intense, super important questions without anyone to answer them. Right?
Nam Holtz (30:37):
Mm-hmm yeah. And you feel, yeah. You feel guilty if you ask a lot of those kids feel guilty if they ask their adoptive parents those questions. Okay. So I think having those, those conversations is important. And making it known that it’s okay to ask those questions. Really scary though.
Pete Cudney (30:53):
Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, it brings our conversation kind of full circle back to if we conceive of this phenomenon as beginning with adoption and moving forward, we’re missing critical information that the child needs to make sense of themselves. Right. Hmm. Did this happen in my life because I’m unlovable, did this happen in my life because fill in the blank. And that we really need to broaden our thinking, have some challenging, but necessary conversations as much as possible as a system. So that in as many cases as possible, we can ensure that we have that information from those parents to pass along to the child later in life when they’re, when they’re ready to make sense of it. Right.
Nam Holtz (31:35):
It’s possible. Yeah.
Pete Cudney (31:36):
Yeah. And is that a part of your, you know, your process of making your film was, was that a part of your quest to understand what had happened to you and yourself?
Nam Holtz (31:44):
Absolutely. I wanted to know the answers to those questions on a very, very fundamental level. I wanted to know where I came from, where did I come from? That’s such a basic taken for granted fact that most people know. But adopted people oftentimes do not know.
Pete Cudney (32:02):
Now you and I are both familiar with concepts related to trauma. And I would imagine that a lot of listeners to our podcast are, you know, familiar or may have a, a range of familiarity with, with trauma. So I’ll talk a little bit about what trauma is and then, and then maybe ask you some, some questions about it. So trauma refers to a host of physiological changes that can occur in a person’s body, brain as a result of experiencing stress. So it could be stress that’s either due to isolated, but extreme events or due to more chronic stress without any kind of relief. And most listeners are probably familiar with the concept of post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. And that diagnosis does pretty well to describe what can happen for adults following a traumatic event. However, it doesn’t fully capture the impacts of trauma on children, right?
Pete Cudney (32:58):
When children are growing up when their brains and bodies are developing at a foundational level and they experience high levels of stress, it can have different impacts. And so the framework that we use for understanding that as you know, is complex developmental trauma. And it talks about how a child’s brain and body really developed differently in response to traumatic stress when they’re young and complex developmental trauma can have much more significant impacts on the child’s development and functioning across all developmental domains. And it can have lifelong impacts to their sense of security in relationships, right? Among, among other challenges. So with adoption in mind with transracial adoption in mind what’s your experience been? Your, you know, I know you’ve, you’re published a bit, you know, you’ve done a little bit of research as well. What’s your experience been related to how the relinquishment, the adoption process can contribute to complex developmental trauma for a child?
Nam Holtz (34:02):
I love the question. I wanna back it up way to the beginning.
Pete Cudney (34:05):
Nam Holtz (34:05):
Which a lot of people have an, an assumption that any loving arms will do if a child is born and placed into the best possible scenario, that there will be no trauma. Yeah. However, as Brazelton and one OCOD point out birth mother and baby are considered one unit as, as things are happening before birth and after birth, that affect one another developmentally, chemically, all of these things are happening that are so important. And as we know, the first two weeks and two months of life are where brain development and organization is happening.
Pete Cudney (34:45):
Right, profound bonding and yeah.
Nam Holtz (34:48):
Most rapidly, right. So we know that this is a really ooey gooey time . And so the separation of a mother and child during this very formative developmental period is actually organizing, especially the limbic system, which monitors fear, endanger. It’s organizing it in a disorganized fashion. And so you’re getting massively hypervigilant people. And I don’t wanna pathologize here. I just say like on a whole level of humans, what are we doing to our society when, when we’re taking apart things that need to be kept together for the benefit of everyone?
Pete Cudney (35:29):
So it sounds like now what you’re saying is probably a lot of listeners would understand pretty readily that, you know, if a three year old, for example, who has a, you know, a very established and kind of consciously aware relationship with one set of parents with one family, if that child experiences a transition to adoption, probably most listeners would readily understand that yeah, that that could be a traumatic separation for that child. Even into loving arms, even with the best supports around that transition. That’s likely gonna be, you know, some degree of trauma for that child. But if I’m hearing you correctly, it sounds like what you’re saying is that because of the intense biological connection between a mother and a baby, I mean, baby’s body is mom’s body, right? And the way that baby has developed with that mother’s bio rhythms that mother’s sound of her voice. That even if that child is separated immediately after birth and put in the arms of an adoptive father or mother, that, that baby’s going to experience that as different.
Nam Holtz (36:38):
Pete Cudney (36:38):
And that even before they can be old enough to be consciously aware that they’re unique in that family, because they were adopted, their physiological system will be experiencing something different. And that, that stress can lead to early changes in how that baby’s body and brain are developing. And then that foundational change can have a kind of a cascade effect throughout that child’s development. Yeah.
Nam Holtz (37:03):
Absolutely. And, you know, I’ll bring up the statistics here adopted and fostered people are massively overrepresented in substance use and mental health facilities.
Pete Cudney (37:14):
Nam Holtz (37:15):
And adopted people are four times more likely to commit suicide than non adoptive people.
Pete Cudney (37:19):
Nam Holtz (37:20):
Sobering statistics. Something is going on. We’re not talking about it.
Pete Cudney (37:25):
Yeah. I mean, I, I know you to be, you know, intelligent and realistic and, and also it sounds like you’re suggesting that we really need to shift our, our focus toward prevention services toward family support toward as much, you know, family reunification and preservation as, as we possibly can. Yeah. And would you also be recommending that maybe there be fewer white parents transracially adopting because of the complexity of the work involved in that? Or what are your thoughts there?
Nam Holtz (37:55):
You know, I, I get a little bit hazy on that question because I think it depends on the individuals and the work that they’re willing to do and the work that they’re willing to put in. I think ideally if there are enough people to adopt not interracially, then it would probably be a better fit. For everyone. But I don’t think that’s an ideal solution. Yeah. Especially at this point in time, there’s gonna be a wave. There’s gonna be backlash. There’s gonna be all this stuff that has to happen before that can happen. So I, I’m wary to say that. I would say that.
Pete Cudney (38:30):
Yeah, the reality may be that there may be children who need families, like you were saying earlier, and, and there may not always be families of the same race or ethnic background to, to meet them. However, I think we can question whether our systems are organized to really support white families or support all families you know, toward, toward that, that end.
Nam Holtz (38:54):
And on that point, yeah. I think that a shift in the concept of adoption is necessary. Why not adopt an entire family.
Pete Cudney (39:01):
Say more? What do you mean
Nam Holtz (39:03):
If you’re willing to support this youth and understand that the best way to support a youth of color is to keep them in their community. Why not support the whole family.
Pete Cudney (39:12):
Including the parents.
Nam Holtz (39:14):
Mm-hmm yeah. And obviously needs to be safety first. But what a concept.
Pete Cudney (39:19):
Mm-Hmm I like that, I’m gonna think more about that. We’re recording this episode on June 2nd, 2022. And at the time that we’re recording this, the public I’m pretty sure is aware of the leaked draft opinion written by Supreme court justice, Samuel Alito. That seems to indicate that the current Supreme court may very soon overturn Roe V. Wade in the near future. And with that, there’s been a good deal of rhetoric suggesting that if that were overturned, women who may be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term can rely on Safe Haven laws to anonymously relinquish and, and place their child up for adoption with quote little reason to fear that the baby will not find a suitable home end quote. And how does your experience with adoption align or not align with this line of thinking from some justices on the Supreme court of the United States?
Nam Holtz (40:19):
Well first of all, adoption and abortion are two entirely separate issues.
Pete Cudney (40:25):
Nam Holtz (40:26):
And they should not be used together. I believe that’s my personal opinion to solve a problem. It’s horrifying. I think that they, again, our conversation about developmental trauma that we just had. Yeah. That is so unknown to people in the Supreme court justice that are making decisions and making assumptions like this, that this is just fine. This is just a great, fine and dandy alternative. It’s really quite upsetting. There are so many voices out there who are adopted people who are pro-choice and who are getting really beaten up for speaking out and saying, gosh, you should be grateful that you weren’t aborted. Like people are saying that to people. It’s a really intense intense thing that’s going on right now. That’s really upsetting and missing the point , which is that that’s not a good solution to this decision, which is also not a great decision in my opinion. Yeah. But I, I think that it’s a conversation that if we actually listened to adopted people, voicing their opinions about this, maybe something would happen. But right now it’s, it’s such a, it’s a, it’s a real mess actually.
Pete Cudney (41:41):
Nam Holtz (41:42):
Yeah. I’m, I’m worried.
Pete Cudney (41:43):
I appreciate, I appreciate you. Especially highlighting that they’re really two separate issues and that, you know, a woman’s right to access abortion a woman’s right to determine what does or doesn’t happen for her own body. And her health is its own issue and critically important. And the degree to which the justices have tried to offer some alternative is also based on limited understanding of the realities of adoption. That adoption is so much more complicated and does involve trauma and loss. That then requires a lot of work to be resilient around. Right? And you can totally do that. You can do the work. And I mean, you’re, you’re a remarkable example, Nam. In my opinion of somebody who’s pretty, pretty resilient. And yet they have offered a non solution that isn’t even directly related to the problem that they’re really trying to tackle. Yeah.
Nam Holtz (42:39):
They’re making it related by the actual wording domestic supply of infants. They’re making it related, but they’re also referring to the adoption industry. Right. Multi billion dollar industry. So there is an issue here. And also if you’re going back in history, there’s a lot of white supremacy involved in this as well. So it’s a really intense issue. I am frightened. And I hope that I hope it doesn’t happen. Yeah.
Pete Cudney (43:08):
Now I so appreciate you being willing to have these complex and UN truly uncomfortable conversations. together with me to be recorded for this podcast episode, you know, to share this level of complexity and, and confusion and nuance and, you know, discomfort with our listeners. And my hope would be that it might prompt some folks to question some things that they’ve taken for granted. And, and maybe even to open up some dialogue with friends and family members about adoption more generally. Do you have any, I don’t know, do you have any thoughts that you’d like to ask of our listeners kind of as a, as a takeaway in reflection?
Nam Holtz (43:51):
No. I, I mean, maybe I do, but right now I just wanna react to what you said. And I hope very much that this makes people think. And makes people have uncomfortable conversations. I actually love uncomfortable conversations. I’m a little bit of a weirdo in that sense, but I think listening to adoptee voices, if you’re really interested in furthering your knowledge, there’s so much out there, there’s a, there’s other great podcasts. There’s you can follow hashtags all over the place. Like adoptee voices. You there’s just so much out there to start educating yourself and ask the questions, ask the hard questions, but also do your own work. So you don’t rely on the adopted person to educate you.
Pete Cudney (44:31):
Right? Right. Thank you so much Nam. What a treat this has been for me.
Nam Holtz (44:36):
My pleasure, Pete. Thank you for having me.
Pete Cudney (44:38):
You’re welcome. All right. Have a great rest of your day.
Cassie Gillespie (44:43):
Welcome to the Field is produced by the University of Vermont’s Child Welfare Training Partnership and the State of Vermont. Our theme music is composed and performed by local band Brick Drop and our sound production and engineering is brought to you by Egan Media Productions. We’d also like to give a special thank you to our in-house technical production assistant Emma Baird. For Welcome to the Field. I’m Cassie Gillespie, and we’ll see you next time.