Sunday, January 17, 2010

why being adopted matters

It’s so hard to try to explain to other people why being adopted is not always the most fun, because basically you’re trying to convince others as to why you have a right to feel sadness and grief, and as to why life is just hard for you at times.

When people smile and tell me it’s “great,” I know that they mean well. But that smile can slice through my heart like a piece of broken glass.

There is this strange tension that happens when it comes to the issue of adoption. Those on the outside expect an adoptee should be grateful and content with the “second chance” in life that has been allowed them, while the adoptee feels a deep sense of loss and displacement that conflicts with this notion that he or she should feel “grateful.”

These well-intentioned yet oblivious folks fail to acknowledge not only the persistent and unresolved loss and grief but also the complex issues that come with being adopted.

When someone loses a spouse or a loved one, people know to respond with compassion and understanding, with patience and gentleness.

Well, for those who don’t know, an adoptee has also lost loved ones. He or she has lost both her mother and her father, and for international adoptees, their first language and culture also. That’s nothing over which to rejoice and feel “great.”

If you meet someone who lost her parents in a car accident when she was 3 years old and was raised by her grandparents, I would hope you wouldn’t respond by saying, “Wow, you must feel so fortunate and so lucky that happened to you!”

Well, when you tell an adoptee, “Wow you must feel so fortunate and so lucky to be adopted,” you’re essentially saying the equivalent of the example I just gave. I know that you mean to say that the adoptee must feel grateful to have a family, but you must remember that the whole reason she or he had to be adopted in the first place was due to the fact that the adoptee first LOST his or her original family. And no matter what, the initial loss is not rectified or undone by the action of adoption.

It’s more complicated than what you may initially think. It carries a lot more emotional consequence, baggage, and difficulty than what you might first realize.

An adoptee didn’t come to be adopted because she decided one day, “Hey, I want to be adopted.” But rather some form of tragedy occurred that left her as an orphan without mother or father or any other family member to care for her.

And although it is the case that she eventually received a family, it does not then nullify the tragedy and loss that preceded her adoption. It does not erase or prevent the hardship that she will face for the rest of her life as a result of the subsequent displacement and ongoing irresolution.

I know there are people out there who feel as though adoptees like myself seem to only focus on the “negative” without acknowledging the “positive.”

I have no problem acknowledging the good things that have emerged in my life. But I do have a problem with the lack of understanding and, at times, the chosen ignorance regarding the adoptee experience.

If my experience as an adoptee demonstrated that people have overall come to understand the hardship and difficulty that adoptees face, I would not feel such a need to “educate.” But it is the apparent oblivion and unawareness, and sometimes even a favored disregard that compels me to continue to write and talk about these “negative” aspects to the adoptee experience.

Things have come a long way. I’ll admit to that. But there is still a long way to go. And I feel almost a responsibility to help it get there.


Mia_h_n said...

I, too, feel the difference in people's reaction to our situation and the car crash.
I've always taken it as a sign of lack of awareness. I don't expect people to learn about and try to understand the complex issues surrounding if they aren't directly touched by it. So I don't expect them to know. I mean, I didn't even know a fraction of what I do now before I started to investigate. And a lot of things are very different from what I thought they'd be.

Adoption issues can be decieving, too, I think. I think the difference in people's reaction to adoption and a car crash is due to the "widely available" perception (at least over here, but I think it fairly worldwide) that car crash parents didn't choose to abandone their child and the birth parents to an adoptee did. Which makes the adoptee better off without them.

Now, you and I know how often that's actually not the case and how often there's a similar tragic situation behind an adoption which is why I don't see your writing or talking about it as a negative in it self. People should know.

Does educating people sometimes get old and frustrating? Of course. Do we keep doing it anyway? Of course.

I'm a little off track - does this relate to your post? I think my main point with commenting was that I don't think your just a "complainer", I think you share. OK, sometimes you complain ;) but mainly you do raise awareness and educate at least me :)

Mila said...

Dang. I actually never thought of myself as a "complainer." That makes me want to never say another thing. I've never enjoyed hearing someone else complain, and it's mortifying to think that that's what this sounds like! I'll have to work on that...

Jeff and Madeline said...

I don't find it complaining at all; although I know a lot of my so-called "peers" (AP's) do. I think for them it boils down to not wanting to take some type of accountability for benefiting from adoption (or in some cases contining unethical practices). Foe the general public I think it is ignorance and way to many orphan Annie shows and the like.
Thank you for continuing to educate, I do the same. I hope everyone touched by adoption will do so, I know they will not as some adopt to rescue and see adoption as such, but many of us are trying to make a difference and change perceptions.
It is a loss, a huge one. One that should not be ignored, glossed over, or seen to be cured by the act of a new family.

Dutch Korean Adoptee said...

Well written, tnx, it helps a lot!

Mia_h_n said...

No no! I didn't mean anything negative about it! I wouldn't want you to change at all! Really.

By "complaining" I meant voicing when something feels unfair or when other people annoy you or when you're fed up.
Perhaps that sounds completely foreign to you or perhaps that's not how you'll define it. It could just be a matter of difference in ways of defining it.

But I really don't want you to change. I love your writing and thoughts and you know I agree with pretty much 99% of it all.
In my mind there's nothing wrong with complaining (I mean, don't we all??) and I would like to emphasize that I did NOT say you are a complainer but a person, who sometimes complain. Are you not allowed to do that?

I feel terrible now....

Mei Ling said...

"I think the difference in people's reaction to adoption and a car crash is due to the "widely available" perception (at least over here, but I think it fairly worldwide) that car crash parents didn't choose to abandone their child and the birth parents to an adoptee did. Which makes the adoptee better off without them."

Yeah, I think that's definitely part of the problem.

OTOH, the old line "She loved you enough to give you up" also heavily feeds into it.

Unknown said...

Education and awareness are key but until something touches your life it is hard to understand. Until death hits you personally it can be a challenge to know what to say to someone when you have not lost. People don't always want to go to our depths with us; they mean well, but they have not felt "that" pain before.
As a mom of a lovely daughter who was adopted it pains me when I hear "I hope she knows how lucky she is." I smile graciously and tell them I am the lucky one; I tell them that she is strong where I am weak and she is bold where I am a coward. And then the usual response is "you know what I mean" and then I smile again. If she is lucky then my son should be just as lucky to have me as a mom but people do not say that--my son is my biological son.
Your education continues to make me strong; my daughter is lucky because of people like you that have walked before her and can educate me. You help me to educate other parents and help them to remember or at least acknowledge the loss. Because of you at least two of my friends have taken their families to therapy to learn how to bond and move forward as a united family.
Please continue to map your journey.

With much love and admiration in my heart,

Samantha Franklin said...

Just found your blog and so relate to this post as a fellow adoptee.

Mila said...

Thanks, Peach! I always love connecting with fellow adoptee bloggers. Kudos to you!