Monday, April 26, 2010

Loss upon loss

"I wish I would have gone back earlier. At the same time having gone, you realize that you're never going to have the relationship that you lost and that is another loss too." Ethiopian Adult Adoptee

The above statement was made by an adult adoptee born in Ethiopia and adopted to Sweden.

I wanted to share it, not only because I personally relate to it, but because it also elucidates the reality of post-reunion.

The reality that I am never going to have the relationships with my Omma and Appa that could have been, sinks in more and more with each day that passes. And as the quoted adoptee states, that in and of itself is another loss.

It is easy to romanticize and idealize reunion. I know that I did before reuniting and even in post-reunion, there are times that I prefer to let the whole of the reality slip away so that I can focus on only those aspects of reunion thus far that have been idyllic.

But the truth always catches up with me, or rather always comes crashing down on me.

I have been somewhat caught off guard by the grief that has struck me since meeting my Korean parents. I am having all the more difficulty processing it, while I struggle with intense inner conflicts--the tension between what I feel and what I think I should feel.

Because it is so difficult to find others who understand, I often have trouble acknowledging my losses and my grief. I feel guilty for feeling sad at times and at other times, I feel angry that I must deal with such a confusing, messy predicament. I feel angry that I even have to manage such complex and seemingly irreconcilable and irrevocable differences.

I tell myself that I am one of the fortunate ones to have been able to find and meet my biological parents. I tell myself that it is wrong for me to feel what I am feeling. I tell myself that I am being ungrateful and insatiable for feeling overwhelmed and afraid. I begin to feel like a black hole.

But deep down, I know it is not wrong that I feel what I feel. I cannot help but feel sorrow and fear. As the quote above expresses, as much as reunion brings answers, it also comes with its own losses.

I discuss some of these realities of loss at Adoption Mosaic in the post, "Beyond the Reunion: Dealing with the Realities of Post-Reunion".

Unsigned Masterpiece responded to this post on Adoption Mosaic stating, "You will never get the relationship you might have had back for all the reasons that you mentioned but you will have a new relationship and you will always believe that to know is better than to not know."

To this comment, I replied:

"As you stated, perhaps to know certainly is better than to not know–at least in my particular situation (but not necessarily in all situations…). But with the knowing and the “new relationship” comes a new kind of pain and a new kind of suffering. Even the idea of a “new relationship” is not wholly accurate, simply because it does not feel new in any way. Rather it feels damaged and marked by tragedy and heartbreak. There is a shared history, but that history is defined by loss and grief, trauma and hardship. There is of course hope, but any relationship we are able to forge will require an amount of hard work, energy, and effort that at times feels overwhelming and elusive…"

As of late, I have been feeling particularly anxious and weepy. I think perhaps in part because of the aforementioned losses that accompany even reunion. I am realizing with increased intensity that the losses that accompany the experience of adoption, search, reunion, and post-reunion are deep and pervasive, and so often, indescribable--so much so that I wonder whether I will ever reach an end to its depths.

And thus far since "reunion," I have actually had the opportunity for ongoing contact with my Korean parents. There are adoptees who make contact but must deal with a biological mother who does not wish to have contact or a relationship, which truly is loss upon loss and of a devastation that I know would crush me completely.

To romanticize and idealize reunion can be hard not to do, particularly if you are standing on the outside looking in. But do not be deceived or fooled, there is a depth of loss that is felt even in post-reunion.

Yet certainly, I will not turn back now that I am here.

But I stay here not because reunion and post-reunion are everything that I could ever dream. I stay here not because it feels like a fairy tale.

I choose to remain here because it is simply who I am. I have nowhere else to go and no one else to be.

Beyond the Reunion: Dealing with the Realities of Post-Reunion

I had the opportunity recently to be a guest blogger at an adoption resource site called, Adoption Mosaic, for which "The to create a safe space where adoption community members can voice their experience, dialogue about issues, and learn from one another."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Adoption loss is a myth": Why I take it personally

I am realizing more and more that the topic of adoption, and all the practices and perspectives that come with it, really can divide.

It is such a potentially divisive and polarizing issue among families and friends, which of course, is a fact that I find unfortunate and emotionally wrenching. When stability and unity could not be more crucial for an adoptee, the adoptee instead finds him or herself caught in the midst of a family and community confused and divided over what is true and best for the adoptee. (Despite the fact that, in the mean time, a growing number of adult adoptees continue to give voice to their experiences and perspectives.)

I find myself consistently having to persevere to not avoid or withdraw from those who I experience as insensitive toward or uninterested in trying to understand. The amount of hurt and devastation I feel when someone invalidates or diminishes from the very real pain and hardship I have experienced as an adoptee, makes me want to turn into a wall and never feel again.

I think part of the reason I have such a hard time when I encounter people who do not acknowledge the losses of being adopted and all the grief and pain that inherently accompany such losses is that I take it personally.

It’s not easy, you know, putting your heart out there. Discussing the difficulties I have encountered as an adoptee is not necessarily what I’d describe as a fun and heart-warming experience, especially when I encounter folks who seem to consider my experience an anomalous or unfair representation of the adoptee experience.

I take it personally, because it’s as though their refusal to acknowledge the reality of the trauma adoptees have experienced is a refusal to acknowledge the truth of the experience of all the adult adoptees that have been brave enough and vulnerable enough to shed light upon the otherwise neglected hardships of being adopted.

It’s almost as though these people are calling me, and my fellow adoptees, liars.

It's almost as though they mean to say that the lives we adult adoptees have lived, and continue to live, are nothing but myths and make-believe stories.

With the abundance of adult adoptee blogs not to mention the myriad of resources available that educate and address the losses and unique issues faced by adoptees, I find it almost insulting and certainly patronizing when folks, and in particular adoptive parents and family members, choose to turn a blind eye and believe their own ideas over what is actually true.

And it’s not as though I didn’t once think like some of these adoptive parents or the general public. If you had spoken with my fifteen year old self, or even ten years later had a conversation with my twenty-five year old self, you would have walked away thinking that I had no desire whatsoever to know my biological parents, and even more so that being adopted had caused me no harm or issue.

Despite what you may think, I did not always think the way that I do now. And the way I think now is not because I’m an apple that went rotten. Really, it's quite the opposite--it's that I finally reached maturation.

I grew up—literally. This means my brain metamorphosed and developed dramatically, and hence my capacity to understand and process complex human thought and emotion eventually developed with it.

As I have mentioned before, the capacity of a ten-year old versus a thirty-year old to process the implications of his or her adoption are literally developmentally and physiologically different.

Although the capacity increases with each year of development, the maturity to process it all may take years to develop.

Albeit later than sooner, I did finally allow myself to think what had seemed unthinkable to me before. I allowed myself to feel what I had once believed was untouchable. I allowed what was buried to be excavated and revealed--with all its glory, and well, all its crud.

And as I inspected and examined all that emerged, I also began to realize that I was not crazy for feeling and thinking all that I was feeling and thinking. I began to see that I had not conjured up these thoughts and emotions from some imaginary place. They had always been within me, yet hidden and latent like the viscous and deep contents of a dormant volcano.

My life began to make sense. Who I was began to make sense. I found explanation for what had always seemed inexplicable.

It’s true that each adoptee responds to his or her adoption in his or her own way. Certainly, we are not cookies made from a cookie cutter. But there are basic truths that characterize the adoptee experience—and one of those crucial, fundamental truths is the truth of loss, and all the grief and pain that comes along with it.

Why is that so hard for parents and family, friends and strangers to acknowledge this? And why is it so hard for me to press on in the midst of the lack of acknowledgment and the ensuing factions of thought?

Perhaps the answer is that at times, we all take it so personally, while at other times, we may not take it quite personally enough.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"Adoptees are not Cultural Bridges" by Mei-Ling Huang

“People are much more willing to listen to those who validate every aspect of adoption rather than those who criticize it – even if the criticizing is not a reflection of how the adoptee was raised in their adoptive household.”

The above is a quoted from "Adoptees are not Cultural Bridges" written by blogger, Mei-Ling--a transracial adoptee born in Taiwan, raised in Canada. She blogs at Shadow Between Two Worlds and Exile of Xingnan (NOT to be confused with Mei-Ling Hopgood who wrote the memoir, Lucky Girl.)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

An Adoptive Parent blogs about "God and Adoption"

An adoptive parent blogger at "Our Little Tonginattor" recently blogged about the potentially touchy topic of God and Adoption. I actually appreciated what she had to say, and left the following comment:

TM [tonggu momma], as a Korean-American adoptee, I truly appreciate your insight and honesty regarding the issue of God and adoption.

Because so many people who adopt (not all, of course, as exemplified by AwesomeCloud), claim some form of a Christian faith, I think this is a topic that needs attention.

You stated succinctly yet very insightfully, "I think that the church often conveniently picks and chooses how to interpret God's Word about adoption." I agree with you on this.

Because adoption occurs in the Bible and is used as a metaphor for a relationship with God, people of faith often make the assumption therefore that adoption is only good.

Well, rape and murder also occur in the Bible and the metaphor of an adulterous wife is also used to exemplify Israel's relationship with God, but that doesn't mean that those things are therefore good.

[Coincidentally enough, I have been working on a blog post regarding the issues of God & adoption from an adult adoptee's perspective, and will post it at some point.]

* * *

As I mentioned in the above comment, I have been working on a post addressing the issues of God and adoption, and more specifically, Christianity and adoption. I realize however, that these topics can stir up a lot of emotion for everyone involved, among both those who claim a faith and those who do not.

I am by no means hoping to instigate a religious debate or a theological discussion. I am wary and weary of such discussions since they often lead to heated arguments and boiling emotions (during which people, both those who claim a faith and those who do not, can end up saying unnecessarily mean and unkind things).

However, because God and Christianity are so often intertwined with the practice of adoption, and so many families (but again, certainly, not all) that choose to adopt claim some form of faith, these are topics that do require attention and discussion.

Yet, I do not approach these topics carelessly or lightly. Nor do I approach them as one who has the answers or claims to have it all figured out. Nonetheless, I do have a few (or more than a few) opinions on the matter, which I hope to share at some point.

However, as I have been working toward writing out my thoughts, I have done so with a notable amount of apprehension and trepidation as I anticipate how others may react, due, of course, to the sensitive nature of such topics.

I say this simply to remind us all to keep in mind that we can each share our own opinions on the matter, but to do so respectfully and with consideration--remembering how we ourselves hope to be treated.

I imagine at some point, however, that someone will choose to ignore such requests and will leave a comment that is less than respectful or less than considerate. So be it.

I suppose such is inevitable when attempting to explore such complex territory--a territory rife with an unsearchable myriad of deep and raging emotions, for all who live there.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

More Memories from Korea: Insadong, DMZ, Museum...

Insadong, Seoul

Insadong, Seoul

Train station near the DMZ hoped to connect South Korea & North Korea one day

Korean National Museum

Restaurant to which my Appa took our entire Birthland Tour group
[He is not featured in this photo for sake of privacy]

More thoughts on Gotcha Day (you can't replace the biological family & infant/child adoptees are not clueless)

[It might be helpful to read the original post, "A Parent Asks Me About 'Gotcha Day'" that preceded this post.]

Firstly, I know that this practice is well intentioned. Adoptive parents want to celebrate what was a very joyous occasion—finally receiving the child for whom you had longed and waited for what felt like forever.

Fair enough.

However, this “celebration” fails to recognize that what you as an adoptive parent may have experienced as a joyous occasion was actually a terrifying, confusing, and jarring experience for the child you adopted.

Really, more accurately, it should be called, “We-got-you-but-you-lost-everything-you-know Day.” I know adoptive parents respond by saying, “Well, yeah, but why do you have to be so negative—she may have lost something but she now has gained a whole new family who will give her the love she needs and deserves.”

Er, yes, but again, such an attitude basically invalidates and ignores the adoptee’s very real trauma, and it conveys that the love and/or relationship that the adoptee shared with his or her original family and/or foster family is somehow less or inferior to what the adoptive parents have to offer.

You may be the adoptee’s family now, but you cannot compensate for or replace his or her biological family. And I mean that literally. You literally cannot be his or her biological mother, father, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings, and so forth.

You literally cannot physically in the most real, practical sense replace the adoptee’s biological family. You look and talk differently. You don’t know the culture. Although some of this can be learned and cultivated, when it comes to the adoptee’s original family, you literally cannot replace them.

You are in the truest sense not the adoptee’s biological family. There is nothing wrong with admitting to this. It doesn’t mean you can’t be a family, it doesn’t meant you don’t love the adoptee, it simply allows the adoptee to acknowledge the inherent loss of being adopted.

“Losing family obliges us to find our family, not always the family that is our blood but the family that can become our blood.” (Jamal Wallace in the film, Finding Forrester)

You have to be willing to acknowledge first and always the loss that leads to having to find a new family. And in acknowledging such a loss, you can come to realize that it is not that adoptive parents should seek to replace the biological parents, but rather that they are simply new and different parents.

As mentioned earlier, you are a new family, a different family. But new and different do not imply better and more loving, just simply new and different.

It's easy to hear only what we want to hear, especially when it comes to issues so personal and so emotionally evocative. We (and I am referring to myself also) have to beware of the classic tendency to practice confirmation bias—incorporating into our thinking only those ideas that confirm what we already believe and rejecting anything, no matter how true or valid, that challenges what we already believe--not simply for our own sake but also for the sake of those we claim to love.

For instance, I was adopted at the age of 6 months old—my Mom told me that when the “exchange” took place, that is, when my foster mother passed me off to my Mom and Dad that the foster mother sobbed uncontrollably. I have never asked if my Mom remembers my response at that time, but I do recall my Mom telling me the story of how I would not stop crying once they had taken me back to their home.

I cried incessantly and nothing—I mean absolutely nothing—seemed to work to pacify me. My Mom tried everything from holding me, rocking me, patting me, bouncing me, walking with me, singing to me, talking with me, but the cries were unrelenting.

Finally, she began flipping through television channels, out of desperation and exhaustion. In the midst of frantically skipping from one channel to another, just about to give up, she suddenly stumbled upon a station that seemed to assuage my wailing almost immediately.

What was the trick?

It was not the television itself. It appears to have been what I heard coming from that particular channel. My Mom had stumbled across a channel that happened to be speaking in the Korean language.

When I was growing up, I just thought this was a funny story. I didn't think much of it. However, now as I have learned more about the realities of being adopted, I’d say that it is a profound observation that demonstrates in a very tangible way that the act of being adopted was affecting me even at the age of six months old.

This challenges the general preconception that babies are too young to be aware of what is happening. This challenges the idea that if you adopt a child as an infant, or at a very young age, he or she will not experience related difficulty or trauma.

Furthermore, if you have ever read accounts of adoptees that were adopted at ages old enough to access memories of the experience, those memories are not characterized by joy and excitement but rather by fear, anxiety, and confusion. Despite such feelings, they often tell of remaining silent and doing their best to adapt. But eventually as adults, they cannot help but revisit the memories and experiences now that they have the understanding and ability to process them. Parents can either work to hinder or facilitate this process.

In my opinion, the practice of "Gotcha Day" has the potential to serve as a hindrance because of the perspective it impresses upon the adoptee that his or her adoption is something that he or she is allowed only to celebrate. It ignores the intense grief and trauma experienced by losing one's biological family and all connection to his or her origins.

It ignores the truth of grief and loss exemplified when at six months old I wailed and wept uncontrollably until the familiar sounds of the Korean language placated me. One can easily dismiss this as coincidence--or one can draw from it the possibility that even at such a young age, the trauma of being relinquished and subsequently adopted was already beginning to emerge.

*Quick additional thought: in the case of divorce or the unfortunate death of a parent, it is basically understood that, say, if the father remarries to a different woman, his new wife cannot and should not attempt to replace the biological mother of the man's children from his first marriage. And vice versa--if the mother remarries to a different man, her new husband cannot and should not attempt to replace the biological father of the woman's children. Not that either new spouse cannot be a "father figure" or "mother figure" type, but certainly assuming that he or she can replace the biological parent is insensitive and presumptuous.

Similarly, when parents adopt a child, their role is not to replace the biological parents but rather to simply be a wholly different and new set of parents.

Friday, April 16, 2010

a Parent Asks Me about "Gotcha Day"

I’ve been getting some great inquiries from adoptive parents as of late. I would like to share some of these inquiries and my responses.

The first I’d like to address is the practice of what is often referred to as "Gotcha Day." An adoptive parent sent me the following inquiry:

What are your thoughts about celebrating "gotcha" day, or as we call it, family day, the day our daughter met her father and brothers. For us it was a wonderful time, a time where our dream of having a daughter came true. But I know now that the gotcha day especially, was not a happy day for her. We ripped her away from all she knew, as the orphanage had when they took her from her foster family, as the foster family had when they took her from her nanny...

Before I share my response, I would like to say that I appreciate the fact that this adoptive parent is willing to not only question her preconceived notions but that she is willing to open herself up to feedback from adult adoptees and alter her perspective and practices accordingly.

I'm sure this topic may stir up some emotions and may cause strong reactions--we can all be honest with one another, but let's just remember to treat others as we also wish to be treated.

The following is the email response I sent (with a few additions) in response to the parent's inquiry:

As far as "Gotcha Day," I have to admit that the name alone makes me wince. I personally think it would be more accurately referred to as "You-lost-everything-you-know-but-let's-not-think-about-that-now-because-WE-are-your-family-now Day."

As far as the actual practice, I personally believe it diminishes from the loss and grief inherent to an adoptee's identity and life. I understand why parents practice it, and I think the heart behind may be right. But the implementation of the good intentions is misguided with the concept of "Gotcha Day."

I personally think it can, although unintentionally, teach the adoptee that he or she should feel only grateful, happy and excited about his or her adoption. I think it can inadvertently communicate to adopted children that they are not allowed to feel angry, hurt, sad, upset about their adoption.

I know parents do not have such intentions, but I'm just expressing that employing such a practice can have unintentional consequences. Birthdays have become increasingly difficult for me, because it functions as a reminder of my abandonment, of my loss of all connection with my original family, culture, language, and origins. My birthday is the day recorded in my file as the day that I was "found abandoned" by my biological mother. Not exactly celebratory in nature.

Even subsequent to reunion with my Korean parents last year (after a 7-year search), my birthday remains of painful reminder of all that was lost. My birthday symbolizes for me deep loss and grief.

How much more does a "Gotcha Day" take a tragedy and coat it with euphemism? Again, please understand, I am not bashing or condemning anyone who practices it, but I am asking that parents simply rethink the practice itself.

In some ways, it'd be like taking the day a loved one died and celebrating it every year as the best thing that ever happened to your family.

No doubt, it is good to remember the one who has died and to have opportunity to reflect on good memories and to honor the person you miss and love. But to celebrate without acknowledging the grief and sadness that is inherent to losing a loved one is cruel and insensitive.

By celebrating a "Gotcha Day" it's almost like you're celebrating the fact that your daughter has lost everything. It's as though you’re celebrating the death of a crucial and vital part of who she could have been.

I know that the intentions behind it are to communicate love and specialness, but if that kind of communication is already woven into the fabric of your family and the relationship between you and your adopted child, then a "Gotcha Day" is not necessary.

I really appreciated the two posts (click here and here to read the pertaining posts, written by adoptive parents) you shared with me. I agree for the most point with what was shared. I agree with the decision not to celebrate a "Gotcha Day," and I agree with the practice of absolute honesty and truthfulness. The truth is painful, for example, when you don't know if the date given is your child's actual birthday. But using euphemism or denial to deal with that truth is more detrimental that simply being honest.

Parents are so afraid that their children won't be able to handle the truth. Honestly, most of the time, they handle it better than we adults do. That is in part, simply because developmentally, the reality of the truth is hard for them to process. However, it is my belief and understanding, that the younger you begin to cultivate the truth with them about their story, the better equipped they will be as they mature developmentally to deal with these hard truths.

Part of the reason I've had so much difficulty as an adult dealing with my adoption issues is because I was never taught or equipped to know that the issues I would face would be normal. My parents never spoke openly with me about my adoption. They made the common mistake of thinking that silence was the best policy, in part because that was the policy that professionals in the field of adoption often taught.

My parents have always been very loving people. But all the love in the world couldn't prepare me for the obstacles and emotional difficulties I would come to face as I matured intellectually and socially. I really believe had they cultivated openness and communication from the beginning, the difficulties I have encountered would not have been so surprising to me. (Again, my parents lacked the resources available to families today, but in some ways I think the current availability of resources leaves adoptive parents today without much excuse.)

Since you have already established a precedent for practicing a kind of "Gotcha Day" or "Family Day," I'm not certain as to what would be best (at least, perhaps referring to it by a different name). You mention that your daughter loves the attention, and so to take it away might feel confusing to her. Whatever you decide, however, again be aware that you might be teaching your daughter that she should feel only happy and grateful about being adopted to America.

I don't know if you already include a celebration of things from her original country as a part of your Family Day or Gotcha Day, but it might help to add those things to it if you decide to continue this practice. It could help to somehow incorporate and include an acknowledgment of the country she came from along with fun facts about the country. I know it's so complicated. I know that ultimately your heart is simply to want to do what is best for you daughter.

Obviously, there is no formula. Whatever conclusion you come to, the most important thing is to continue to initiate and cultivate a relationship with your daughter that teaches her you are a safe place, that you will not get angry or upset with her for the thoughts and emotions within her. Even if she seems to be unresponsive to your prodding, it is important to build that foundation, because being adopted is such a fluctuating process, subject to great change.

There are things that I feel and think now that I NEVER did when I was a teenager. Had you asked me these questions when I was fifteen or even twenty-five, I would have shrugged my shoulders and said, I’m fine with being adopted, and well, I have no desire to know about Korea or my biological family.

And I imagine that by the time I hit my 40's (I'll be 35 in June), my thoughts and attitudes will have shifted again. Adoptive identity is complex and at times, unpredictable simply because as we mature developmentally we may begin to process things that we did not before...

[I have more thoughts, but will share them in a follow-up post]

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Why is Adult Adoptee insight & experience often ignored or disregarded?

I just have to say that all the coverage and attention regarding the current Russian-American adoptee fiasco is revealing the ongoing and persisting ignorance that surrounds adoption.

Harlow's Monkey posted a very insightful entry that I hope you'll read.

To somewhat tagalong with a few of the issues she raises in her blog post, I would like to express my own frustration with the situation.

Overall, the insensitivity and crudeness with which this unfortunate turn of events is being handled indicates that not only does the general public still misunderstand adoption but that adoptive parents also remain rather ignorant regarding the issues that accompany being an adoptee.

The media is either sensationalizing and/or sanitizing the situation as though it doesn't involve the very real past, present, and future life and feelings of a very real seven-year old human being.

I also find it incredibly annoying and implicating that the media and public seem to consider adoptive parents and social workers the "experts." As Harlow's Monkey addresses, why is it that no one in the media or otherwise has bothered to consult an actual adoptee regarding the situation? And if it's credentials (in our overly litigious and legalistic society) the media is concerned about, there are plenty of adult adoptees who are professionals in the field of social work and adoption.

Even still, you don't need a Ph.D in adoption to be an "expert." In fact, all the books and studies a person reads will NEVER be able to make someone an expert on the adoptee experience. A White man could, say, get a Ph.D in African-American Women's studies, but despite all his credentials and so-called expertise, he would never truly know what is to be an African-American woman.

Look, I'm not saying that adoptive parents and social workers can't be advocates for adoptees or even helpful resources, but they are NOT the experts. No matter how many books they read, they will never truly know what it is to be an adoptee. They cannot live the life of an adoptee.

Adult adoptees are the experts. And I wish that our voices and experiences, our knowledge and insight, our wisdom and counsel were sought after and considered.

Instead, we're pushed to the side or worse yet, simply completely forgotten.

My husband and I were discussing the lack of presence of adult adoptee perspective and feedback in the media as it covers the story of the seven-year old Russian adoptee. My husband said something along the lines of "My guess is that it probably hasn't even dawned on anyone to include adult adoptees. It's probably not even something that would ever come to mind...They just don't think of it. They just don't know."

And that's just the thing--like I said when I began this post: Ongoing and persisting ignorance.

Claiming ignorance in this case is not a "get out jail free" pass--it's only more of an implication of the gross oversights that continue to characterize how people view adoption, and even more so how people view the adult adoptee. I think adoptive parents and people in general do not naturally turn to adult adoptees for several reasons. (They often prefer to consult other adoptive parents or a social worker).

For instance, I think adult adoptees are often still viewed in the minds of others as the children who were brought to this country as infants or toddlers, despite the fact that we are mature adults now. This imposition of eternal child-likeness on us keeps us from being viewed as the mature and insightful adults that we are, and hence often overlooked when others are seeking out counsel and feedback regarding adoption.

Also, I think it is assumed that we don't or shouldn't have anything to say, either because we're assumed to be so well-adjusted that we wouldn't have any insightful or helpful advice to offer other than to say, "I'm so grateful. Thanks for adopting me."--or we're viewed as being "that negative, ungrateful adoptee" who has "issues" and can't be trusted or taken seriously as a valid representative of the adoptee experience.

That's like saying the perspective and experience of a Black American who lived through the Civil Rights movement isn't a valid representative of Black American life back then, because she has some not so flattering things to say about America.

I remember being asked to share several years ago at an event for adoptive parents and their adopted children and prospective adoptive parents. When I presented what I had outlined to share, I was asked to omit the parts in which I had planned to discuss the difficulties I had experienced as an adoptee. The organization hosting the event wanted me to depict adoption in a particular way.

I have also encountered adoptive parents who disregard me as an anomaly or an exception. They patronizingly give me the proverbial pat on the head, as if to say, "I'm so sorry you have issues. I'm so grateful that my child won't have the same problems that you have."

We've all heard it said, "Ignorance is bliss." Well, ignorance is certainly not bliss when it comes to adoption.

Ignorance is exactly what leads to a seven-year old Russian boy being sent back as though he was a doll that had been purchased in a toy store.

[for those of you who are feeling a little adventurous or up to a challenge, or perhaps have an artistic side, check out this poem entitled, Protocol, that I wrote years ago, but I believe is very relevant to the situation surrounding the seven-year old Russian adoptee]

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A common misassumption among adoptive parents: "My adopted child isn't going to have issues"

I know AP’s who have taken the route of “my child isn’t going to have ‘issues’.” That’s about the most detrimental environment that an AP can establish for an adoptee. It’s the textbook example of how NOT to raise your adopted child.

I know AP’s who tell themselves, “If I say or don’t say, if I do or don’t do the right things then my adopted child will be just fine,” or the classic, “As long as I don’t bring it up or make it an issue, then my child won’t bring it up and won’t have issues about being adopted.”

These AP’s tell themselves, “I don’t want to mention it if the child doesn’t mention it, because I might somehow plant some kind of seed and cause the child to have issues.”

Besides the fact that such assumptions indicate that the adoptive parents are focusing more on themselves and their wants, and less on the needs of the adopted child, the seed is already there. It was planted the moment the original mother left. It’s not going anywhere. You can choose to ignore it, but it will still continue to take root and grow.

You can try to neglect it, smother it, kill it, but by doing so, you are destroying a part of the identity of the child you claim to love.

To choose ignorance is hurtful to your adopted child. You are teaching your child denial, because you yourself are practicing denial.

I know you think that you’ll be there for the child if the topic should ever arise, if issues should ever become apparent. But by that time, your child won’t want to turn to you, because you never made the efforts or took the steps to create a relationship or an environment of openness and communication about being adopted.

By not initiating conversations about it, you will teach your child to deny, ignore, suppress the deepest of pain and sorrow, and by doing so, to deny, ignore, and suppress a valid and significant part of his or her identity.

Of course, a six-year old child is going to appear well adjusted and happy. Or tell me what average seven-year old naturally spends his time thinking about the meaning of life? Or what five-year old is in touch with the emotions of abandonment, grief, and loss enough to tell an adult, unless a parent has taken the time to draw the child out and teach them that these deep and intense emotions are okay to express?

Adopted children will already naturally suppress what they're feeling. They don't want to endanger their position in the family. They fear if they bring it up, the AP will get angry or upset or will feel as though the adopted child is being ungrateful. Unless you communicate and teach your adopted child that it is safe to talk about his or her thoughts and emotions, questions and sadness about being adopted, he or she will by default, remain silent.

AP's who assume a child will naturally initiate a conversation about the loss and grief from being adopted demonstrate a fundamental ignorance and misunderstanding of what it means to be adopted.

Children in general have to be taught how to talk about their emotions. It doesn’t just magically happen. And when it comes to the experience of being adopted, which involves complex emotion often coupled with guilt and confusion, there is no exception to this basic fact.

I know AP’s think they’re “doing good” by neglecting their child’s pain and loss. But they’re throwing away precious opportunities and time to build a relationship of openness and communication with the adopted child while also suppressing all the pain and loss for a later time, when they instead could be equipping their child with the emotional and communication tools to deal with the loss and grief.

Do you assume that your child will learn all by himself to eat the foods that are good for him? Do you assume that your child will know how to heal his wounds if he falls off his bike and cuts open his head? Do you assume that your child will know all on her own how to cope with the death of grandma? Do you assume that your child will never have issues if she is consistently teased and ridiculed at school?

There are so many things for which we automatically take responsibility for teaching our children. We know that they need us to help them learn and grow to be healthy adults. And yet, so many AP’s make the gross mistake of assuming that their adopted child will have no issues with the loss that comes with being adopted.

This kind of thinking pains me deeply. The worst thing is that AP’s who think this way often isolate themselves in such a way that they are unable to receive the help and support from the very people who are able to help and support them. And often AP’s who think this way see no issue with the way that they think. They often view themselves as the ideal parents whose love and who in and of themselves are sufficient for their adopted child.

In other words, the ones who need to be reading this blog post and other adult adoptee blogs are most often the ones who avoid them...

(But if you are reading this, even though it's difficult, I applaud you. Although I may sound harsh, please know, I don't mean to sound as such. That is not my heart. I am simply trying to speak honestly and sincerely.)

I have more to write regarding this topic, which come in a later post...

Friday, April 9, 2010

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Watching the video footage from the reunion for the first time...

Mike and I have finally been able to begin to watch all the video footage we captured during our trip to Korea last year. For reasons that are not worth explaining, it was not until this week, almost a year since we made the first trip to Korea, that we were able to sit down and see what we got.

Wow. I had no idea.

I had not been aware of the fact that Mike had actually caught on video the very first moments.

The very first moment I came face to face with my birth mother.

The very first moment I embraced my birth father.

The very first moment our voices met and our eyes gazed at one another.

The first moment of embrace. The first moment of contact.

After a long thirty-four year separation, the first moment of...everything.

* * *

Suffice to say, I have been feeling intensely emotional. Watching the video footage reeling in front of me as I talk with my Omma, as I exchange thoughts with my Appa is proving to be more startling and more confounding that I had anticipated.

It truly remains ever surreal.

I almost can't believe that the woman in the video sitting next to her biological mother is me.

I almost can't believe that the woman sharing her thoughts with her biological father is me.

Surely, that is someone else walking through Namdaemun market with her Omma.

Surely, that is someone else standing next to her Appa, as he holds his fingers up to make a peace sign.

Surely, the woman in the video sitting at the back of the bus listening to her Appa tell stories of his life is someone else.

Or the woman strolling down a trail with her Omma toward the tombs of King Michu is not me.

Although the video footage is shaky and jumpy at times and shot at odd angles here and there, it still feels as though I am watching a movie about someone else's life, about some other woman's first moments of reunion with her biological mother and father.

But then I look more closely. I listen to the voices and see the faces. The memories begin to flood my mind and heart --and I realize without a doubt that the woman I see is me.