"All is well."
Over time, I've realized that friends and family seem to assume an expectation of me regarding my experiences and perspectives of my own adoption that is common and yet misinformed.
I think there is often a well-meaning although misguided "goal," or perhaps more accurately, an expectation or pressure that adoptive parents, and others who are connected to adoptees, tend to unintentionally apply to adoptees. It is the idea that at some point an adoptee will and should arrive at a place in life in which the adoptee will breathe a sigh of relief, leaving all behind, to say, "All is well."
I am not demeaning or lambasting any parent or individual or adoptee, for that matter, who holds to such expectations. I can understand the hope and longing that a parent or loved one or adoptee would have for an adoptee to be able to live life with a sense of "all is right in the world." It's natural to want for ourselves and for those we love to feel at peace.
However (yes, I always have a "however" or a "but" or a "yet"...), although well-intentioned, such a notion conveys to me a basic lack of understanding of what it means to be an adoptee, of the inherent complexities of being adopted and the lack of resolution available to adoptees. This is not to say that we cannot experience peace or have times in our lives during which we feel well and content, but to expect that we, as adoptees, will one day "arrive" at a place in which we will say, "all is well," or will cease once and for all to experience and question the pains and doubts inherent to our adoptions demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the long-term, lifelong consequences that characterize an adoptee's journey.
And it's not simply that we experience the same pains and doubts repeatedly, but also that new phases and new events in life bring forth new pain and new doubt.
For instance, I'm pregnant. Assuming all goes as hoped, my husband and I are having a child early next year. This anticipated event is ushering in a new phase of life that carries along with it a complexity of emotion that I would not otherwise experience if I were not an adoptee.Obviously, I face the normal fears and anxieties that the average person experiences, along with the normal joys and hopes. Yet in addition to those "normal, average" fears and joys, I face added layers of fears and joys that are specific and normal for someone who is adopted.
(Now, I do acknowledge that there are adoptees who perhaps do not contemplate or delve as deeply as I do into their adoption experiences, but their choice to do so does not therefore nullify my perspective or qualify it as anomalous or easily dismissed. I think at times there is an unspoken, subconscious rationalization that adoptive parents and others assume when encountering adoptees like myself. AP's and the like conclude that we're the "exception" or that we uniquely have "issues" that most other adoptees do not or will not have, and therefore, our perspective, although superficially acknowledged by some, is not taken seriously. Rather it is ultimately assumed to be irrelevant and nothing but a call for pity. I don't want your pity, and I don't want your superficial consolations. Read "It's not for pity's sake" for more understanding. In the same way, my experience and view does not therefore disqualify those of adoptees who think or feel differently than I do. It's ALL a valid part of the collective adoptee experience. That's in part what makes adoption so complicated. So, let's not oversimplify. We can hold onto one without letting go of the other.)
Furthermore, a misassumption often made, due to the fact that I have found and reunited with my Korean mother and father is that I will some day be able to have relationships with each of them characterized by a sense of "all is well." As much as I would hope for such a state, I have come to realize that such an expectation is most likely unrealistic.
Understand that I began my search for them with high expectations. But as time goes on, and I experience the realities of reunion with my Omma and Appa, I have had to readjust my expectations--not because I'm a cynical, negative person, but because I have had to face the truth about my adoption and reunion. I have had to let go of the romanticized and idealized fantasies in order to learn to manage and deal with the unadulterated and unabashed truth of my situation. Some would say that I'm being a pessimist or that I'm losing hope. But you'd be wrong.
A pessimist would not have searched for her Korean parents in the first place. A pessimist would not have persevered for almost seven years despite repeated setbacks and discouragements. A pessimist would not continue to pursue and cultivate ongoing relationships with her Korean parents despite the overwhelming language, cultural, and emotional barriers.
Nonetheless, I am simply forced to deal with reality, because now that I have found my Omma and Appa, entertaining fantasy could be hurtful and defeating to our present relationships. My relationships with and knowledge of my Korean parents are no longer based on speculation, but rather now on tangible interaction, and I must behave and act according to that reality. I cannot will or force my relationships with them to be something they are not--to try to do so would not only be unfair to all of us but also dangerous and detrimental. (Please watch the documentary film "First Person Plural" for further understanding, which is available for free on PBS online for a limited time.)
This is not me giving up. This is not me yielding to despair or hopelessness. Rather, this is me persevering, clinging to hope, overcoming despair. I have to acknowledge that in order for these relationships to survive, as fragile and as delicate as they are, it requires that I be willing to be honest and truthful about what is available and possible at this point--even if that differs from what I originally hoped for or wanted, because ultimately, this isn't only about me. (I also think that many adoptive parents would benefit from applying this same thinking and realization to their own situations with their adopted children...)
We all--my Omma and me, my Appa and me--must meet one another in the middle and work from there. I'm not saying that my relationships with them can not improve over time. I'm not saying that we can't grow closer over time. But in order to achieve growth, I have to be willing to acknowledge where we're at currently, that although hopeful, it is far from "all is well," and most likely will never truly fit the traditional description of "all is well." Again, such an acknowledgment is not an admission to cynicism or pessimism but rather an acknowledgment of the inherent complexities and realities of being an adoptee. Failure to do so can lead to further and unnecessary frustration and pain.
Basically, I am having to face the reality that I will never have the relationships with my Omma and Appa of which I first dreamt and hoped. This is not succumbing to disillusionment, but rather an acknowledgment of reality. And even as I anticipate the birth of our son and the life that we will have with him, this reality becomes all the more salient and tangible, and with that, once again the ongoing complexities of being adopted emerge--the experience of simultaneous pain and healing, grief and joy...the realization that what was lost cannot be retrieved. But rather, that we must start from here--where I am a 35-year old adult and my Omma and Appa are in their fifties with their own families and their own lives and their own wounds and fears and issues.
No matter what I can ask or know of my Appa and Omma now will never be able to compensate or substitute for what I could never ask or know of them for the first three decades of my life...
Even my Appa, the very first time we met, without my prompting, expressed an understanding that what had transpired over the past thirty plus years certainly had resulted in wounds for us all that would never fully heal "100%." Yet, he simultaneously expressed hope that he would do all that he could to perhaps help the wounds to heal "99%."
I know you may want to believe that I, we can "have it all." But it would behoove not only you, but also your adopted children and/or adopted loved ones, to let go of fantasy and to embrace reality. You may have certain hopes or expectations for your adopted children or loved ones, and specifically for how you want them to view and experience their adoptions. You have your own picture, your own "goals" for how you want your relationship to develop and how you want them to feel about being an adoptee. Yet you must remember, though, that this is not about you alone, and that ultimately, you, if you are not yourself an adoptee, are not the one who has to live the life of an adoptee and suffer the lifelong consequences.
(Adoptive parents despite how you may feel at times, you are not the self-sacrificing martyrs, and adoption does not affect you in the way that it affects the adoptees...in other words, no matter how much you may think you understand, you will never truly know what is it to be an adoptee...I don't mean this in a fatalistic way, just in an honest way. You can always learn more, and you, also, will never "arrive" at being the "perfect" adoptive parent.)
You (we) have to realize that at times the hopes onto which we hold hurt those we love more than they help them. We have to be willing to discern this. It is never wrong to hope--it simply requires that at times we must adjust those hopes so that they are truly hope rather than overwhelming demands or crushing expectations.
With time, I am realizing that my Appa is right. There are some wounds that never heal. I am grateful that both he and I can realize this. I just wish that the rest of the world truly grasped and accepted this. This truth need not destroy my life. It is not despairing and hopeless or weak and short-sighted for me to acknowledge this, but rather it is healing and freeing, empowering and longsuffering. I can therefore live accordingly and stop feeling like I'm crazy for the lack of resolution, the lack of wholeness that I still feel, even after reuniting with my biological origins.
And for those of you, who will never have to walk in an adoptee's shoes, to assume that you are somehow more enlightened and know better what I should feel or think or hope? I cannot expect to affect your views or broaden your thinking. I can only be honest by saying your assumptions hurt me and drive me from you...and will potentially drive your children from you once they are old enough to discern the realities for themselves. And I would find that sad for both you and your children--in particular, because, it need not be that way.