If you had been there to see my biological mother, my Omma, weeping uncontrollably, uttering over and over in the only English words she knew, "So sorry, so sorry...miss you...love you..." maybe you would more clearly understand the loss, the grief, the heartbreak of the circumstances surrounding adoption...
If you had been there when I, trembling with tears, asked my Omma whether she had ever had the chance to hold me, and then witnessed her being overcome with sorrow, sobbing, and barely able to speak as she whispered that she could not talk about that time in her life, because it was too painful, maybe the grief would make more sense to you...
If you had heard my biological father, my Appa asking for forgiveness, saying "It is all my fault," as he acknowledged to me, "I know you must carry deep wounds and much pain. Although I cannot heal them one hundred percent, I will do all that I can to help them to heal" perhaps the complexities of adoption loss would be more palpable, more real...
Yet in order for me to gain my American family, both my Omma and my Appa had to lose a child. They had to lose a piece of themselves--and I had to lose a part of myself...
To acknowledge this is not focusing on the negative. Rather, it is acknowledging the whole reality, the whole truth about my adoption and the loss that had to take place in order for my adoption to happen. I acknowledge these losses no more and no less than I acknowledge the family and the life that I gained.
I appear to talk about the loss and grief to a greater extent, because it is this side of adoption that is so often neglected, rejected, ignored--because it is the painful side. It is the side that no one likes to ponder or acknowledge. But one-sided thinking denies the very nature of what it means to live. Life is rarely one-sided.
It is simply that, in my opinion, there are many more layers and sides to adoption than what receive due acknowledgment.
Understand that grieving what I have lost does not therefore mean I am regretting what I now have.
To know what one has gained, one must also know what has been lost. The converse is also true--to know what one has lost, one must also know what has been gained. These are not mutually exclusive experiences. They function together.
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I know, I take up quite a bit of blog space discussing "adoption loss," repeatedly.
If I had the sense that very few people contested the validity of adoption loss, then I would not feel it so necessary to continue to discuss the topic. But alas, the issue of adoption loss and the associated grief still remain an often "debated" topic among adoptees, adopters, and the general public.
So, I continue to try to provide insight and examples with the hope that something will break through to those who still disbelieve adoptees' claims to loss and grief.
I have heard the complaint before that adoptees are no different from other groups who get singled out or are "misunderstood." In other words, why are we crying a river--we're no more misunderstood or different from the other sub groups in society who endure comparable suffering.
Sure. I have never said otherwise.
My point is not to try to make the plight of adoptees appear to outweigh those of other misunderstood or under acknowledged groups.
This is not a competition for who has the greatest sob story. But each sob story often has its unique set of circumstances and complexities. It is crucial to understand these distinctions for not only practical but for humane reasons.
Compassion cannot be present when understanding is absent.
In most cases in which suffering or deep loss have taken place, the general population recognizes the consequences and responds with appropriate compassion and understanding or outcry and outrage. A wife loses her husband to war. A husband loses his wife to cancer. A child is abused at the hands of a caretaker. An African-American man is beaten without cause by a group of police officers.
A main distinction in adoption, however, is that adoptees, unlike the aforementioned individuals, are often expected to ignore and deny any emotions or grief that we may experience related to our experience of adoption. We are not "allowed" to grieve, and folks look at us as though we're crazy or ungrateful if we do. Or the loss and pain are treated lightly like a scraped knee or stubbed toe--the initial injury is acknowledged and tended to superficially, but then everyone moves on, and it becomes a "remember when" story--remember that time you scraped your knee...stubbed your toe...so glad you're all better now...
Other groups of people who have suffered or endured deep loss are often not treated in the same way (of course, there are additional groups who experience a similar lack of understanding and compassion, but that's a whole other dissertation...).
Again, I'm not saying that therefore our "cause" has more value or should win a prize. I am simply attempting to explain why I spend so much time on my blog trying to address adoption loss and grief--or as some would say, "the negative side of adoption." No one contests the loss and grief experienced by a husband who has lost his wife to cancer or a child who has been abused.
However, adoptees consistently have to field questions from skeptics and doubters--often almost as though we are being incriminated.
This complicates matters for adoptees who have the need to grieve and process our circumstances at a greater depth.
Being told that you should not be grieving or should simply "be grateful and move on" makes it all the more difficult to get resolved and come to terms with our situations. It's demeaning, patronizing, and simply not helpful.
Can you imagine telling a friend who has just miscarried "it happened for the best" or telling a co-worker who has lost his brother "it was meant to be?" I would hope not. But that's essentially what it feels like to adoptees like me who are trying to process our losses amidst a mob of voices telling us to "just let it go" or "to be more grateful" or "more positive."
Look, I never have a problem telling myself I need to be grateful. I never have a problem seeing all the good in my life, which sometimes makes what I have to face all the more maddening. Don't you think I already feel guilty for feeling sad, for grieving? I already have to overcome all the internal conflict, apart from the outside "feedback" I receive. Don't you think I've had to suffer through feelings of betrayal, of fear of hurting my American family? You don't know how many conversations I've had with my husband, tormented and in tears, about how selfish I feel, how conflicted I feel.
And for what? For wanting to know the most basic and fundamental knowledge--who I am, from where I come.
Why is it so criminal, treacherous for an adoptee to want to know these things? Implicit in this accusation is that I don't deserve to know, that I am somehow less of a human being who should simply be grateful that someone was willing to take me in when my own people would not. Implicit in this expectation is that I am supposed to be satisfied with not knowing because I may have died or ended up on the streets if someone had not adopted me.
What a load of Oscar Mayer.
If someone wakes up the next morning to discover that her right arm is suddenly missing and she does not know how or why, can you blame her for then proceeding to find out what happened with the hope of getting her right arm back, and if not, then at least figuring out how and why it happened?
Now, imagine losing an entire family, an entire people and not knowing how or why. Why is it so bizarre that one would grieve such losses (even if such losses happened when one was an infant, that infant will grow to become an adult who will inevitably grow to understand the implications of having to be adopted...)
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Now with all that I've just expressed, I know I must include the following proclamation to appease and silence those who would accuse me of not loving my American family: The above discourse does NOT therefore nullify or invalidate the affection and love I feel for my Mom and Dad and my brothers. It simply adds to it...It simply begins to fill in missing pieces to the puzzle.
To understand the grief, you must understand that it is NOT my American family over which I grieve. It is not the life I have now over which I grieve. I love my husband. I love my American family. I love my friends. Overall, I have a fulfilling and meaningful life full of love and everything that truly matters. But the point is that I can acknowledge all of this yet still experience the pain and loss, the grief and sorrow of what had to be lost in order for me to have this life.
What I grieve over are the circumstances, the tragedies that transpired that made it necessary for me to have to be adopted. What I grieve over is the fact that my Korean mother felt trapped and forced into giving me away, when she wanted to keep me. What I grieve over is the fact that my biological father had no idea that I had been sent away to another country until it was too late. What I grieve over is the loss of my own flesh and blood...
I think to grieve over such circumstances is natural, because they not only had profound consequences for my life then, but they continue to have profound effects on my life today.
There are those who would tell me that I dwell too much on the past or that I am allowing my life to be driven by loss.
Again, this demonstrates to me a failure to grasp the reality that I spend countless words trying to make clear. I am not "dwelling"--I am simply trying to understand the past so that I can live a fuller, richer, more complete life in the present. And it is not that my life is "driven by loss." It is that the life I currently have began with and was subsequently built upon loss. The primary reason I live here in America, that I have my American family, my American husband, my American life is because I first had to lose everything.
If you had to lose everything to be where you are now, I do not believe that you would ever forget nor do I believe that the wounds and suffering from such losses would ever cease to inform and influence your life in ways both more obvious and more subtle than you could even fully grasp.
And if you say, Well, actually, Melissa, I do know how it feels to lose everything, then I would say in response, let such memories and experience teach you compassion, and then perhaps, you will be well on your way to recognizing the reality and complexity of the loss, grief, and pain experienced by an adoptee...