Poetry: it inevitably relates to -- among others -- identity, history, culture, class, race, community, economics, politics, power, loss, health, desire, regret, language, form and genre disruption, love ... as well as the absences thereofs. The same may be said about Adoption.

Saturday, April 23, 2011



These children are not mine. They are the children of fellow workers in the disability rights movement (such as Not Yet Dead and ADAPT). I called their parents sisters and brothers since I became seriously involved in the movement at the age of 19. Therefore, it follows that their children are my nieces and nephews. A lot of these children have been adopted.

First, there was Nigel, a now handsome adolescent who starts middle school next year. His parents both have disabilities. His mom has epilepsy and had a stroke when she had an operation to regulate her seizures. His dad had osteogenesis imperfecta, a disability Nigel shared with him. Nigel also has cerebral palsy like me and a bunch of mental health concerns and learning disabilities. But he's an absolutely fabulous little person who is not so little anymore.

The second big adoption in my life was when my good friends Kevin and Karen adopted a little girl named Dominika. She has Apert syndrome which means that she has craniofacial deformities and some hearing loss. Her mother has a mobility impairment and her father has hemophilia and HIV. Dominika may look different but I still think she's beautiful. She had her fifth birthday around Christmas and I sent her five dollars in a card and a purple butterfly shirt. My favorite thing about Dominika is that she's absolutely the most femme person I know, even for a five-year-old.

The final adoption that I was involved with was when my friend Laura Hershey and her partner Robin Stephens adopted a 13-year-old girl named Shannon. Robin has cerebral palsy and Laura had spinal muscular atrophy and was/is one of my poetic idols. Shannon has various learning disabilities and is in special ed, but she works hard and her moms and I (as well as anyone who knows her) know that the educational system is vastly underestimating her.

Shannon and her Moms Laura Hershey and Robin Stephens

Thing I remember most about my friends' adoptions was that it took so long. It took months and, in some cases, years. I think the waiting was the most painful part. I was overjoyed when I could just be the honorary auntie without worrying that some stupid court would take them back into an unsustainable situation.

Someday I hope to graduate from the role of auntie to the role of mom. When I am a mom I will probably adopt as well. But motherhood requires a lot of work. Before I do that, I need a job that pays more than freelancing does. I need a partner. I need a house or at least an apartment that is not subsidized, because too many creepy people live in such places, and my home has to also be on a good bus route. For now I've just decided to keep working at it and to be content with being an auntie.



The adoption experience has affected my poetry because it has taught me that there are more important things in life then whether this particular editor likes your poetry this month. In short, it has given me badly needed perspective and made me a better poet in the the process.



This poem was written shortly after I found out that my friend Laura Hershey, and the mother of Shannon Hershey-Stephens, had died.

Word Failure

What do you say to a 14-year-old girl
whose Mom died
the Friday after Thanksgiving
when she’d only been “officially” her child
since the 21st of June?

Even someone who earns
her living making words fit
lacks the ability to answer.

I’m afraid
they didn’t cover
this in honorary auntie school.



Martina Robinson loves being honorary auntie to the slew of kids her "brothers and sisters" in the disability rights movement have adopted from far and wide, and plans to adopt children with disabilities one day.


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