Friday, November 5, 2010

I'm "Better Off" as an Adoptee...?

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…”

And in my own response to Mei-Ling's post I wrote: Woah, Mei-Ling. This is intense. This post makes me all tense & emotional–in a necessary way, I suppose. I often wrestle with the same exact turmoil. I grew up with an incredibly privileged life as a result of being adopted. Reading your post is forcing me to process what I have been trying to avoid since reuniting, the same truth you address–that materially & socially I am so much better off than I would have been had I grown up in Korea…I wrestle so much with trying to synthesize the realities of both worlds, both lives, and the “what if”…and what makes it even harder, as you addressed, is that both my Korean parents went on to marry someone else & have more children whom they fed & raised & provided for…and there are even further emotional & social discrepancies atop the material discrepancies that I must also consider….

As Mei-Ling wrote:

"I like to think I might have been happy growing up there. I like to think I might have been. (Even though everyone constantly tells me otherwise, but hell, my kept siblings grew up healthy and happy, so who is ultimately to say?) 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. That is why reunion is so unsettling...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...


Harmony said...

"Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil. Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred." Proverbs 15:16-17

People who think you are "better off" because your American family has money place too much importance on wealth. The Bible says you are better off with love. Love trumps money, any day. Now, you have loving APs, so that naturally complicates matters.

I also think you're right to say that you would have faced different turmoil in Korea - your mom would have been a single mom, and you know very well how she (and you, probably) would have been treated. You might have had some turmoil/angst over your relationship (or lack thereof) with your father and/or grandparents.

Adoption is so complicated, as you continue to teach me, Melissa.

Linda said...

"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."

Perfectly stated.

When it comes to the material aspect of "better off as an adoptee", for me, this was certainly NOT the case. My ap's were barely middle class and struggled to put food on the table.

Even if my ap's had been wealthy, that money would have never taken away the pain for me. I would have rather grown up poor with my own family versus strangers with things.

It's so mind warping when we think of the possible outcomes of our situations.

Melissa said...

Most of what you say is true, Harmony.

Although, it is actually quite possible that had my Omma not relinquished me, my Appa & Omma would have married and kept me, and we all would have been a family...

Truth be known, my Appa actually never wanted to relinquish me. My Omma gave me away without ever consulting him--she did it in secret from him.

My Omma and Appa had actually known each other for years (they met in school), and lived together for several months up until the last month before I was born.

Unforeseen circumstances rendered my Appa a bit compromised, but he had sent for my Omma only to discover that she had disappeared. When he was able to search for her on his own, he did so hoping to find her and me and marry her so that we could be a family. But when he finally found her--3 years later, she had married someone else and had two other children, and of course, I was gone...he continued to search for me, but to no avail...

My Appa actually struggles with a lot of rage and anger toward her, understandably. And she struggles with a lot of regret and "what if" also, understandably.

My Appa is angry that my Omma never gave him the option or opportunity to assist her and me while he was compromised, and my Omma struggles with regret over having relinquished me in the first place. She did so at the behest and under great pressure from her family & in particular her older sister. In my Omma's own words, she wrote, "She was like a god to me. I had to obey her." My eyes well up with tears and so much grief wrenches in my gut...what tragedy and sorrow...what is done is done. But truly, all 3 of us are faced with what could have been...

Indeed, it is complicated...

And the truth is that I've been treated in some pretty heinous and awful ways & have had to face some profoundly painful consequnces as a result of being a transracial/international adoptee living in America--one cannot minimize such experiences...and growing up with the torture of the unknown eludes description and is not easily grasped by those who have always been able to know and often take for granted that they know...

Again, as I stated in the blog post, it would have simply been different vs. different, not better vs. worse.

And having loving AP's doesn't mean that I therefore have no right to grieve or that I escaped the hardship that comes with losing everything and having to deal with the consequences of being transplanted and displaced...

Complicated, it will always be complicated...

Amanda said...

One could say....

You're "better off" because you went from a family that couldn't care for you to a family who could.

One could also equally say....

You're "better off" because we worked to get rid of the stigmas of illegitimate birth and single motherhood, and gave your mother support to be able to raise you so that neither of you had to endure loss.

Why adoption is the only option where we're allowed to say "better off" always puzzles me.

It's like a game of "would you rather." The possibilities my life had were not limitted to "live in poverty" or "live an as an adoptee." Someone offering help and support (and truthful information) to my Original Family very well could have changed all of that, the perceived "options" and my destiny completely.

Von said...

I believe it's time to stop asking and answering those apples and oranges questions.It was, it is and we can't change anything except our view of it.
The contrasts between American wealth and the relative poverty of most of the rest of the world where many starve or don't have enough to eat are obscene and the adoption industry banks on it.
Hope all going well for you at this special time in your life x

Mia_h_n said...

"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.."


Mei Ling said...

I feel like it's... pointless... to argue against the truth of being economically and materialistically better off.

Reena said...

Oh wow.

Being 'better off' economically and materialistically isn't the end all of everything. It all comes with a price-- there are tradeoffs.

As you stated in your post, I think most of folks know or know of families with lots of tangible wealth but not much quality to the time spent and memories created.

Whereas other families may not have as many *things* but have the time for each other. You simply cannot judge, IMO, based on tangible wealth.

I don't know why people typically seem to assume that more=better.

Melissa said...

Well, what may seem pointless to one is full of meaning to another...

I've got to process and work through these issues, and ultimately be able to assert what I believe, regardless of the futility with which others may view it...

Reena said...

Anything that is important to one's self is never pointless or futile.

I am sorry if my comment was interpretted to have that meaning.

Melissa said...

Oh sorry, Reena! I should have clarified...I was responding Mei-Ling's comment...

Reena said...

Thanks Melissa-- I re-read and see Mei-Lings comment now. I should have realized.

I was so effected by your comment about your Omma and Appa-- their reality and yours.

Life always has its "what ifs" for everyone-- but my god . . .,

it is very heartbreaking and really makes me think-- and I think alot-- about my daughters's first families. I've had people tell me I think too much about my daughters's First Mom.

How can I not? Why shouldn't I?

How can any AP not?

I see their First Mom every time I look at them-- the beauty, the temperment, some mannerisms. Every single trait so lovely, wonderful and yet also so sad because I know they will likely never see a reflection of their beauty as they grow up.

How can we, APs, love our children and want to protect them and provide for them and not also have these same feelings for thier First Moms and First Families?

Especially when we know what a huge part opression and/or poverty, and/or social norms regarding unwed pregnancies play in our children being adopted.

Nobody-- that I have found really addresses this in adoptoland.

Melissa said...

@ Mei-Ling: "I feel like it's... pointless... to argue against the truth of being economically and materialistically better off."

The "truth" of being economically and materialistically better off does not have to be in conflict with also acknowledging the "truth" of the inherent value of individuals apart from economic and material standing.

The problem I have with the lopsided focus on economic well-being is that it neglects, once again, the fact that not only adoption, but life, is more complicated than that economic well-being.

It also ignores that a person's well-being and happiness are not based solely on economic and material wealth, and that certainly a family is more than a utilitarian unit that functions to provide nothing more than "stuff."

How many adoptees are adopted into families that serve very well the utilitarian function of providing material needs and wealth, and yet they grow up void and empty of the love and affection they ultimately needed? (The classic Harlow's monkeys experiments...).

To me, it's less of an argument, and simply more of an obvious fact that economic and material well-being are only a part of the picture, not the whole picture...

Mei Ling said...

Melissa - I am going to get back to you eventually because I'd like to further explain myself and in general to those who read my blog.

I could answer you here but it'd be novel-length, so I will just publish the post with the issues that have been shadowing my mind ever since you linked to me.

I also happen to have like 3 posts I want to put up, but don't want to spam the blog lists. >.>

Anyway, I've linked to your post in my responsive post, so you'll know which one it is. :)

Gah... too much writing I want to post!


Melissa said...

Mei-Ling, I look forward to your response. You are always very well-thought out and often provide insight that challenges me and provokes me to think more deeply about matters...

And I definitely can relate to feeling like you have so much you want to say/write, but not enough time/space to do it!