Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why adoption hurts (Part 2)

[click here for Part 3]

In a previous post,
"Why adoption hurts (Part 1)", I discussed in general why adoption is not neutral and why it is inaccurate to assume that adoption is without psychological, social, and familial repercussions.

I ended the first post by stating that I wanted to address in greater detail some of these misinformed assumptions and discuss just a few of the reasons as to why being an adoptee is "not easy" nor without consequence--but I offered that I would do so in a "Part 2" simply to prevent a single post from being too long and too saturated.

So here are just a few for starters:

LACK OF RESOLUTION OVER PROFOUND LOSS: Adoptees have no way to get resolved regarding the loss of their original parents and extended family.

Often there is no knowledge of the circumstances that led to their adoption and even less knowledge of their biological parents' identities or histories.

How do you get resolved and move on when you have no idea what happened? It's like telling someone to get over the husband who is missing in action. You in some ways have no choice but to "move on" but you can't ever actually get resolved, because you can't ever know what happened or where he is. It's a similar situation for adoptees.

PUBLIC IGNORANCE: Most people are generally ignorant of the profound effects psychologically and socially of adoption on the adoptee's identity and overall experience of family and life.

This compounds the existing difficulty of working to find resolution and understanding. If the rest of the world acts as though adoptees are crazy and wrong for having difficulty with being adopted, we're not going to feel comfortable or free to deal with the emotions that accompany it. Most likely, we'll just ignore or suppress the thoughts, questions, and emotions that trouble us.

It's like a friend telling you she was abused all her life, but you then proceed to tell her that it's over with now and she should be fine. Hopefully, in most cases, the majority of people would never do this.

However, when it comes to the profound loss and grief that adoptees face, most people have NO CLUE. This ignorance only increases the sense of isolation and alienation experienced by adoptees, which in turn makes it all the more challenging to cope with being adopted.

ETHNIC/RACIAL INDIFFERENCE/INSENSIVITY: If someone was adopted transracially or internationally this can also further complicate the adoptee's experience.

This is a HUGE factor and is often grossly under-acknowledged and under-addressed. And it's probably going to get a little touchy and I'm probably going to say something that offends someone. Just know that I'm not here to bash or tear anyone down. And I'm also still trying to formulate and gather my own thoughts and perspectives regarding these issues. I'm just trying to discuss the issues in a mature and respectful way, while maintaining openness and honesty. So, let's all be patient with one another.

For example, in my case, a White family adopted a Korean child. If you're White, try to imagine yourself, say, being adopted into a Nigerian family or into a Chinese family and growing up in the respective countries with little to no exposure to anything else or anyone else like you. Hopefully, you can envision the identity issues you would encounter in addition to the issues of loss and grief that come with being adopted.

Furthermore, there is a tension that exists between White Americans and other Ethnic Americans.

Whites say, Oh, I'm color blind. I don't see color.

Okay, let me go ahead and get this one out of the way. Don't strive to be color-blind, okay? You do see color. We all see color. It's inevitable and a natural part of the life scape. It's not a bad thing to see color.

However, what I've noticed is that a lot of White people seem to choose to deal with the color they see by ignoring it. They think the only way to avoid being racist or prejudice is to ignore a person's ethnic heritage.

Let me be clear, that's not the point. The key is learning to recognize and appreciate someone for who they are, which means not ignoring key elements of their identity--and that includes their ethnic background.

I know it seems contradictory. You say, But wait, I thought people didn't want to be discriminated against. I thought we are not supposed to be prejudice.

Yes, you're right. But being prejudice and racist is completely different from appreciating and cultivating someone's ethnic origins. You can acknowledge someone's ethnic origins without being racist or discriminatory. Just in the way that you can appreciate that someone is taller than you are without discriminating against them, you can learn to appreciate someone's ethnic background without being a bigot.

It's not that I want people to see me ONLY as Korean. Because really, that's just a part of who I am. But to completely ignore it is also detrimental. It's really not contradictory.

It's simply more complex than "black and white," because people are more complex than "black and white."

That's the problem with racism and bigotry. It fails to recognize that people are complex and instead makes gross judgments based on oversimplified conclusions. But being "color-blind" is basically the other shoe in the same pair. Putting it on a different foot doesn't change what it is.

Don't ignore someone's ethnic background but also don't make sweeping generalizations based on someone's ethnic heritage. Certain stereotypes do exist for a reason, but those stereotypes become dangerous and harmful when we allow them to overtake common sense and basic human consideration.

For adoptees in particular, for example in my case, it could not be avoided that growing up as the only Asian in predominantly White communities would have consequences regarding my identity development and my overall experience of being Asian in America.

Rather than either extreme: Oh, I'm sure you were fine. I'm sure your race didn't matter one bit. You're just a human like all of us versus Hey, slant-eyed flat-flace, you look weird and you talk weird. Hoing-doing-choing-doing.

There are of course more subtle and covert encounters that I have with harmful stereotypes, but they nonetheless sting just as much.

I'm simply saying that I can tell you from personal experience that even though White people like to think of themselves as "color-blind," they most certainly are not.

I'm not saying that you are not a generally kind and considerate person. What I'm saying is that even with your best efforts to not treat someone according to their ethnic appearance, you will inevitably do the very thing you're trying to avoid.

So, don't avoid it. Just try to embrace me for who I am--with all its complexity and all its seeming contradictions...Just don't be racist or ignorant about it...

And in terms of adoption, recognize that being adopted as an Asian into a predominantly White community with accompanying standards of beauty and conduct cannot but have long-term effects on my experience of the world and my identity.

ASSUMPTION THAT REUNION MAKES IT ALL GO AWAY: There is also an assumption that if an adoptee "reunites" with his or her biological parents and/or family, then that adoptee will no longer have any questions or difficulties.

Again, this is a misguided and misinformed assumption. Although "reuniting" with my biological parents and family has answered some of my questions, it has not answered all of my questions. And actually, in many ways, it has created more.

Reunion do not simplify or fix the issues that adoptees face. In reality, it complicates the issues and surfaces all kinds of emotions. And the reunion isn't over after that first meeting. It continues on into what's often referred to as "post-reunion."

Post-reunion is often neglected, in part, I think because so many assume that reunion is the end of the story. But post-reunion is one of the most complex, fragile, daunting, draining, testing processes. It's even hard to explain or discuss because it is so incredibly complicated.

If adoption is inherently complicated, reuniting with one's biological family certainly is no less complicated and often only deepens and widens the existing complexities.

[click here for Part 1 and here for Part 3]

* * *

Please feel free to chime in. Certainly, the issues discussed above only scratch the surface. I had a hard time myself, even explicating all the complexities. I never seem to get to a place in which I feel as though I have properly and adeptly discussed the issues of why adoption hurts.

I'm sure I'll have to further clarify statements I have made in this post...


Mia_h_n said...

I love the way you joggle a bunch of different thoughts and come at a topic from all different corners in a sort of "all over the place" kinda way, yet you manage to beautifully sum everything up in a sentence or two at the end :)
I don't know if that's intentional to take me a long in your thought process, or if it's simply because these issues are often so difficult to comb out in your head, that you use the writing process as a sorting process, too. Either way, I like it :)

Do I fall into your category of people trying to be colour blind, if I say that when I look at you, I do see that you look Asian, but that it doesn't matter to me? I'm still gonna approach you with the same amount of fear, respect and curiosity that I do everyone else.

And if that was your point, I agree that you can touch on and talk about colour and culture without being prejudice and/or racist. But it does seem like people are afraid of being labled as such, so they just avoid it all together.

Mei Ling said...

[There is also an assumption that if an adoptee "reunites" with his or her biological parents and/or family, then that adoptee will no longer have any questions or difficulties.]

You hit the nail on the head.

Mila said...

Mia, you're right in the sense that I am often "thinking aloud" in my blog posts and do use it as a "sorting process." Sometimes, I even go back and edit the post later because I have additional thoughts or want to re-phrase something more clearly.

As far as the color blind thing. In America, being "color blind" often involved completely IGNORING someone's ethnic heritage to the detriment of their identity. I don't believe that you do that.

But for example, when someone tells me, "Melissa, you're not Korean, you're AMERICAN," I kind of wince. I know they mean well, and they're trying to be inclusive and say, "Hey, I'm color blind, I don't see race."

Well, the problem is that I not only see it every day when I look in the mirror, I FEEL it from everyone around me, particularly living in the Deep South. I may be more American culturally than I am Korean, but my appearance prevents me from being able to fully assimilate, and therefore my ethnicity remains an issue.

It's simply that extremes should be avoided.

I'm BOTH Korean and American. Labels are not detrimental if they're accurate. They're just often more complex than people initially recognize.

Mila said...

Mei-Ling, I know you understand has been so much more difficult than I ever imagined...

Mia_h_n said...

On your comment to Mei-Ling: This is also one of the reasons I appreciate your blog and villingness to share so much. To me, reunion still seems so far out and perhaps that's why I'd never thought that much about it, but I have really gotten an education on how post-reunion can unfold. You have helped me prepare a lot.

Anonymous said...

Hi, and thank you for sharing your story. A friend of mine who is also an adoptee shared part 1 of your story on facebook and it made me stop and realize just how indifferent non-adoptee's can be towards those who have been adopted. It's not purposeful, but you were right when you said most people are ignorant of what an adoptee may deal with day in and day out because for the rest of the world it's simply one of those things that no matter how hard we try, we cannot be empathetic to your situation unless we too have been in the same situation.

I enjoyed your first part. It was profound, thought provoking, and emotionally stirring. Your words stayed with me for several days. Your second part however lost me a little. Your second part changed mood, changed objective, and changed from a wide spread and inclusive thought that encircled most adoptees, to a very individual view of your own experience.

I believe each one of us have secret, hidden emotions that we have to endure because of someone else's decisions. You are dealing with your emotions partly because you were offered for adoption, but also because of who adopted you. Many of us have issues to deal with. For example, I am a white male, 270 lbs, former military, former law enforcement, a father, a husband, and a Christian. I'm incredibly blessed and very thankful for all the gifts God has given me in life. I'm also an AMAC, Adult who was Molested As a Child. Multiple times a week, for 10 years, from at least the age of 4, to the age of 14, I endured molestation, sodomy, force oral copulation, physical beatings, and constant physical and psychological threats from multiple predators, most of whom were members of my family. After talking with counselors and doing the math, it would not be an exaggeration to say I was victimized over 2,000 times in my childhood. I'm 40 years old and the effects of those years still hurt, still influence, still haunt my daily life. It takes very real effort to control the parts of my life that are affected by the abuse of those years but I have found healing for most of it.

The reason I tell you this is because, many times in my life growing up I didn't want to be a member of the family I was in. I wanted to be adopted. Hell, sometimes I just wanted to die. Don't get me wrong, I loved my family, very much! There were some really great memories, as I'm sure you have had with your adopted family. But, I also had some very real fear of them as well! (I didn't realize I feared them until much later in life). There was this hidden and very intense fear of what might happen any second. If I had been given up for adoption, would I have experienced all those things? Was there another life waiting for me out there? What would have happened if I had a different family? Did I cause the abuse to occur? Did I, at four years old, invite being abused? Shouldn't I have put a stop to it earlier in life if was so difficult to bear? When I was 14 I finally beat up my primary attacker and word spread not to mess with me anymore. But, what of the rest of the effects?

So, what if? What if that life was holding terrible things for your future and somehow a plan was made to rescue you from it? Or, maybe it would have been perfect? Maybe too perfect? What if your experiences and your trials and your pain is shaping you in just the right way to serve other people in just the right way? Perhaps your experience was meant to help you bless someone else, in a way that you never could have done, had you never been adopted?

I could not have made it through this life without my faith in Christ. He alone is responsible for comforting me and holding me and keeping me through those dark years. I have a blessed hope that I am somewhere in God's master plan and the BEST way to survive my experiences and my past, is to spend my future trying to help others.

I look forward to reading your part 3! I wish the best for you and I do thank you so much for sharing.

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