Mei-Ling at Shadow Between Two Worlds posted a blog entry titled, "The Painful Truth of 'Better Off.'" Please take the time to read it. She deals with the very complex conflict of "what if" that is common among adoptees.
After reading Mei-Ling's post, I felt a flood of emotion teeming with resentment, fear, anger, gratitude, grief, confusion, love, sadness, longing, and the list goes on...
She was processing what I've been trying to avoid for the past year and a half--what I haven't wanted to think about ever since I got the call that my Korean parents had been found after a long seven-year roller coaster of a search: "In my adoption, I am better off. It is so, so painful to admit that." (Mei-Ling)
And yet, the above statement requires a slew of disclaimers and explanations, because, for me, it's simply, well, not that simple.
As a reader, Reena, stated in response to Mei-Ling's post: “Material wealth and a loving home will not replace all that a child loses when they are adopted…Adoptees, I think, are put in the very awkward (not sure that is right word) life position of having one life through adoption and being left with an enormous ‘what if’ about how their life might have been. In situations where adoptees grew up in a loving home they love their parents and family—they wouldn’t want to lose that—but they also want the life with their first family…”
As Mei-Ling wrote:
Still, I am reminded that I cannot compare the blessings of something I don’t know, something I have never lived. Yet, reunion has forced me to confront and live in the shadow of those ghosts. ...a reminder of the paradoxical nature of reunion. Why love wasn’t enough. Why love wassupposed to be enough. Why I am not supposed to question anything. Why I felt I shouldn’tquestion anything. Because it’s supposed to be enough and adoption is supposed to fix everything – but what happens when it doesn’t feel that way?"
To state that I'm "better off" as a result of being adopted is a blanket statement that makes me squeamish and uneasy. On the surface, it's true. According to certain standards and chosen measurements, it's true.
And yet, such a statement still makes my heart curl and my eyes pool. Such a statement is shallow and dismissive, ultimately. It places value on one life over another. It elevates one set of parents over another. It creates a hierarchy that should not exist in the first place. It demeans one for the praise of another. It diminishes from one while adding to another. It adulates one at the detriment of another. And it does so (although perhaps not solely) primarily based on material wealth and provision. It's the way of the world: more money = better life.
(But deep down, something in us knows that more money does not equal a better life--the deceitfulness of wealth. How many of us have known families with all the wealth and material comforts in the world and yet are void of love? And vice versa--how many of us have known families that live meek lives materially and yet are rich with love? Well, I've at least seen it, and if you haven't, maybe you need to get out more.)
As Reena further stated in her response, "Their [adoptees'] life growing up in our family is different, not necessarily better, than it would have been growing up in their first family."
This assessment at which Reena arrives is to me a more truthful, accurate perspective.
People so often make the wrong assumption that because I provide constructive criticism and analysis of the practice of international adoption--or in the interpretation of some, because I'm an "angry adoptee"--that it must be because I had "bad" or "unloving" parents, and/or because I'm miserable and hate my life.
Just to clear the air, then, neither is true. I have very loving parents whom I love deeply. And I love my life. I have an incredibly fulfilling, wondrous life. I love my husband and my family. My husband and I are twelve weeks away from giving birth to our first child. My life is full, my life is rich with all that really matters--love and family and friends.
Some would then think to themselves, "Well, then, how in the world do you come off criticizing adoption? The gall! The audacity! Look at all adoption has given to you?! That you would have the arrogance, the nerve to bite the hand that feeds you...You ungrateful little..."
Look, I can be grateful that I have healthcare and health insurance, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have major flaws in need of reform. I can be grateful for the healthcare available to me and yet still criticize the current shortcomings, not because I'm a spoiled little jerk, but because I am an idealist that believes there is always room for improvement, for change--all for the betterment of my fellow human, not for the tearing down.
Listen, I'm the first to admit that there are times that I find even myself feeling as though I was better off growing up with my American family, not only for material and social reasons, but also for emotional reasons. I find myself feeling grateful that I didn't grow up in Korea. I find myself feeling relieved that I grew up with all the material comforts a girl could ever want and then some. I find myself clinging to the life I had with my American family as though it was so much better than the life I would have known with my Korean family, not only materially but socially and emotionally. Even my own mind and heart experience difficulty and conflict in attempting to embrace the true complexity of my situation. Even my own mind and heart feel tempted to reject the acknowledgment that life with my American versus my Korean family is not a case of better or worse, but rather of different and different.
But the truth is that ultimately, as Reena, stated, we cannot, if we are to be honest, come to a conclusion of "better," but rather we must accept "different." And the truth is also that although I love my life and have parents whom I love and admire, that is only one side of a very complex and multi-faceted experience.
The truth is that I most likely would have simply traded one type of emotional and social turmoil for another. Certainly, being an adoptee has not been perfect nor has it been easy (in every way--socially, psychologically, materially), rather it is a life wrought with difficulty and pain. Had I grown up in Korea with my Korean family, I obviously would not have experienced the emotional repercussions of adoption. But, I would have experienced a different, albeit not necessarily better or worse, kind of turmoil and difficulty in life.
It may be easier or more simplistic psychologically to assign concrete, dichotomous labels of "better" or "worse" to being adopted versus not being adopted, and yet, any such labeling is based on speculation, and speculation is just that. Also, such "black and white" labeling is rarely accurate when dealing with the human condition. Furthermore, I believe that acknowledging that the circumstances and outcomes would have been "different" is much more accurate and honest, because it takes into account the complexities of the realities of the situation as a whole, while it is also a more equal and fair assessment that does not diminish from the value of one while overemphasizing the value of another and vice versa.
As Mei-Ling addresses, in situations that require special medical treatment, it is easy to dismiss the emotional and social consequences as negligible in the name of physical survival. But again, to do so is to also neglect the human lives involved as a whole (not separate, broken pieces that have nothing to do with one another) and to place value on one over the value of another (one parent, one life, one outcome, and so forth is not deemed better than another purely based on social and economic status).
Sure, I or Mei-Ling and countless other adoptees could have died or languished away in orphanages had we not been adopted by our Western families, but why then do so many automatically conclude therefore that it is adoption alone that was the only option that could have saved our lives, and that hence we must come to the conclusion that we are lucky and better off for having been adopted?
Is there not another option--that people in the community, whether locally or globally, could have provided the resources and support, both socially and materially, that would have enabled our families to provide for our most basic needs and beyond so that adoption was not the only option available to "save" our lives? Is that not what exists in the States today? Now of course, adoption still takes place in the States, so understand that I am not implying that adoption should or will never happen. That would imply a perfect world...and I'm not that naive. (And I'm also not implying that I would have rather grown up without my American family. Please, don't shove me in a corner and jam words down my throat...)
But I am saying that there are very real, feasible alternatives and options that are grossly neglected because people won't take the time to consider solutions and ideas beyond their little tunnel. I am saying that I do believe that it is not naive to expect that we can get closer to "perfect." I do believe that it is not too much to ask that we push to strive toward a greater ideal. And although we may never attain it fully, this would not be failure. Failure would be to never try, to never believe that we can improve the current practices and circumstances.
Failure would be to shrug our shoulders and say, "Well, that's just the way it is." No social change, large or small, ever came about through such apathy and resignation...
And the very children we say we want to help will never truly be helped if we allow the complacency of the status quo to dull us into a mindless stupor of thinking this is as good as it gets...
To do so would be the true death of not only them and us, but of humanity itself...