Monday, February 8, 2010

reunion does not "fix it"

To spell it out with clarity: Finding one’s biological family does not fix everything.

It does not make the pain go away. It does not heal the wounds. It does not lift the scars. It does not answer all the questions, and many times, it stirs up even more.

It does not simplify the existing complexities of an adoptee’s life. It complicates an identity and experience of family that is already confusing and convoluted.

I know to many I may sound negative and ungrateful. How can you say that? You are so lucky? Do you know how many adoptees long and ache for what you have?

Yes, I know. I know all too well. Finding my biological parents after a seven-year search and coming up on my 35th birthday, I am very aware of the pain and longing adoptees endure as they search for answers.

I am not saying that I am not fortunate for having the rare chance to connect with my Korean family.

I am simply adding to the strange and indescribable experience that as awe-inspiring and wonderful as it may seem to you, it is additionally as equally heart wrenching and terrifying for me.

Often adoptees focus on the difficult aspects of adoption because those aspects are generally neglected, ignored, or tucked away as if they are aberrant or rogue. Suppressing or disregarding the painful experiences of being adopted is not only detrimental to the adoptee’s well being, but it also does not somehow magically make it all disappear. It only allows it to fester until a later time, at which it may emerge in destructive and unhealthy ways.

Hence, it is necessary that more and more adoptees have the freedom and opportunity to voice the truth about our experiences. It may not always be pleasant, but when did losing one’s family as a child ever become a pleasant experience? And that’s basically what an adoptee has experienced—the loss of his or her family.

After someone has been kidnapped and subsequently returned to his or her family, although there may be joy upon the return, the consequences and repercussions of such a traumatic and intense experience will unfold over time and require attention and processing.

In the same way, even after adoptees have been adopted and subsequently, if years later they reconnect with their biological families, they have a lifetime supply of tangled emotions to process.

I am not subversively comparing adoption to kidnapping (although, there are certainly cases in which adoptions have taken place as a result of illicit practices—so be cautious and educated). But I am again trying to draw on metaphors that will help others to understand why the experience of being adopted is so emotionally complex, and why it is crucial not to ignore the challenging and painful sides of adoption.

Just as in the case of a child who was kidnapped is returned to his or her family, an adoptee that finds his or her biological family will have to undergo a long process of working through complex emotions and experiences as a result of the trauma of losing his or her first family and then suddenly finding them again. This is in addition to all the complex psychological and social consequences of being adopted into a nation and people from whom the adoptee is physically different and of losing one’s first language and culture as a result of being assimilated.

As I have quoted before from The Spirit of Adoption (Gritter), “We must be careful not to sanitize, sentimentalize, or even glamorize the pain of adoption; it is really miserable stuff, and it is intensely personal. It is interior. The pain of adoption is not something that happens to a person; it is the person. Because the pain is so primal, it is virtually impossible to describe.”

The above explains in part, perhaps, why I may at times seem repetitive in what I say or write, why it may seem at times, that I am blowing the same whistle or setting off the same alarm. It is as Gritter so aptly writes, the pain that I experience “is virtually impossible to describe.”

In addition, I am also what I refer to as a “late bloomer.” It was not until I was well into adulthood (my late twenties) that I even began to have an inkling of how adoption had affected my experience of life. Therefore, in many ways, I have only just begun to deal with and untangle the deep and pervasive emotion that comes with being adopted.

It is a pain that I hope with which to learn to cope, but one that I question as to whether I will ever fully recover or from which I will ever wholly heal.

11 comments:

triona said...

Great post and an important point.

I'm not sure I'd call you a "late bloomer". From what I understand (from talking with others and reading as much as possible about adoption), it's common for adoptees not to ask those sorts of questions until we are in our twenties or thirties. I know I didn't. It's often lifechanging events like getting married or having children of our own--being on our own, being out of childhood, learning who we are as adults.

I'm not sure we can ever heal either. Cope, yes. Accept, perhaps. But people who lose their families as children, as you point out, go through a traumatic experience. I don't think we should necessarily "get over" it, though I do think it's important for each of us to analyze how we feel about it and what we want to do about that.

Mia_h_n said...

I wouldn't call you late either. You have to have a pretty good grip on your own self in order to be able to know how adoption affects you, and I don't think most people have that grip much earlier than you've had.

Personally I don't think of my adoption as something I have to "get over". I don't see how I'd be able to, as it's part of my past and a big part of who I am.
I see my way to happiness as figuring out the best way to cope with my problems - and of course try to change the ones I can, but my adoption is not one of them. It just is, so I have to find the best way to live with it.

I don't expect it to stop hurting, I mean, it's a sad fact, but I do expect to come to terms with it.
Besides I've never lamented being adopted, only the circumstances being so that I had to.

I'm still a work in progress so forgive my inability to make a comprehensive comment..I'm not so good with the words like Melissa ;)

Melissa said...

Thanks, Triona and Mia for your comments.

And I know you've got a point, Triona about the "late bloomer" complex I have. ;) I guess my experience has been pretty varied, and I, over the years, have met a lot of younger adoptees in their early twenties who seem to be asking the questions that I'm just now getting to...

But some of these younger adoptees also have had resources available to them that I did not have while growing up...not that that fixes anything, but perhaps, it provides a more fertile substrate on which curiosities and questions can flourish earlier on...?

triona said...

You know, I wonder if adoptees are learning these lessons younger and younger because there is more information available to adoptees. Adoption is discussed in broader terms than when I was young, and thanks to the Internet adoptees have more opportunities to talk to one another, and to first moms. Hm... food for thought...

Melissa said...

Triona, I will say that a lot of adoptees I've had opportunity to meet have surprised me with how young they are when they begin searching and/or asking questions...

I've encountered teens even, who want to find or have found their biological parents, who are asking questions that I never would have imagined asking when I was their age.

Now, I will also say that I've encountered probably just as many who have no interest whatsoever in searching or asking questions.

However, there does apear to be at least a correlation between level of exposure to resources, awareness, types of parenting styles, etc. and an adoptee's curiosity and desire to know more/search. But that's just in my interactions...

Mei Ling said...

"It does not make the pain go away. It does not heal the wounds. It does not lift the scars. It does not answer all the questions, and many times, it stirs up even more."

Exactly.

You know, it's almost ironic in a way: I was able to go back and meet my mother - but in meeting her, I also had to witness the mother-daughter relationship she had with my sister, and oh gawd did that ever sting.

My final night there was traumatic. I don't even have the words for it. It just felt like the grief would never end.

And I thought, well as soon as I arrive back in Canada, it'll be all over and there will be no need to grieve because I'll have distanced myself from it.

I was wrong. I dreamt about the airport for several weeks. Always a slight variation of the same thing: either missing the flight, missing the boarding call, not finding the gate, etc.

It got to the point where I was so fed up that I didn't want to dream.

So when certain aspects of adoption are never discussed, yes, they do and can come out in other ways.

Melissa said...

Mei-Ling, thank you for your comment and always sharing so honestly and poignantly.

I have been caught off guard by how much grief and loss I continue to feel, even more so after meeting my biological parents.

It seems perhaps that meeting them demonstrates and magnifies in a very concrete way what has been lost. There is no more fantasy. Only reality.

Wendy said...

You do not need to apologize or make clear your pain in order to sooth others souls--sadly I know trolls are out there who prey upon every word.

Being in this place--reunion--is damn hard stuff (and I know it isn't even me). There are so many layers, so many unanswered questions, so many levels and versions of truth. Add in the lack of communication over years, the language and cultural barriers and feelings intensify. Complicated is an understatement with no adequate word as a substitute or describer.

The whirlpool turns, moment after moment you are falling into the center and then a bit of information or contact takes you to the periphery, but it is inevitable that you will return the center again, and again, and again. The cycle of moving from the center to the edge, but not escaping the whirlpool. I feel it each day...I cannot imagine if it were me. I am in the whirlpool, but I have the option to get in the lifeboat at will.

Melissa said...

Wow, Wendy, thank you for your poignant and beautiful sense of understanding, and for your compassion.

It comforts me to know that there are people like you out there. ;) Sigh of relief.

Harmony said...

You know, in some ways I think adoptees who find their biological families have a harder emotional road than children who lose their parents in other ways (say, a car wreck). A death is painful, but it's also final. The loss felt through "voluntary" adoption (voluntary on the side of the parents, although, especially in the case of Korean adoptions, voluntary doesn't always mean willingly) doesn't have that clean ending. It's open-ended. There's no funeral, so to speak.

I'm going to speak from a bit of personal experience, and you can tell me if you think it's a good comparison. I think it's the difference between miscarriage (pre-20 weeks) and stillbirth (post-20 weeks). When a woman has a stillbirth, there is a funeral. Some religions baptize the baby. The baby has a name, a gravestone, a memorial service each year. Friends grieve with you. But miscarriages are completely different. No funeral, no gravestone, and much less sympathy. I was told I should be grateful for losing my babies because something was "wrong" with them.

Just like adoptees are told they should be grateful they were adopted.

If more people treated miscarriage like the death of a child, it might be easier to deal with. And if more people treated adoption like the death of the birth parents, perhaps adoptees would have an easier time with the emotions.

Yes? No?

Melissa said...

Harmony, first of all--Oh my gosh. I am so sorry. My heart cringed when I read what people had said to you. People really do say some crazy, hurtful things. I know their intentions are "well-meaning," but man, just don't say anything if you don't know what to say. Don't make up crazy crap...Such a lack of sensitivity and ability to empathize, or at least sympathize. I wish there was required "compassion & sensitivity training" as a part of living life. But anyhow...

But a great comparison and very well-said. I am encouraged by your willingness to grasp and understand the emotional aspects of the adoption experience, and in particular, your willingness to share openly and reach out using your own personal (and heart-wrenching) experiences...

Hugs.