Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Listening to adult adoptees: Do others really want to hear what we have to say?

First of all, I would like to clarify that when I write, "adoptive parents," I hope readers have the discernment to understand that I am not writing "all adoptive parents" but rather simply "adoptive parents," which can more specifically be interpreted as "those adoptive parents to whom the said description or behavior applies."

If you read a post and the said behavior or description does not apply to you, then voila, it doesn't apply to you. If you read a post, and it does happen to apply to you either at some point in the past or currently, understand that it is not meant to tear you down or make you feel poorly about yourself. Rather, it is meant to help. The intention of blogging about these topics is never to tear down, but rather to build up, out of a hope to educate those who are willing to read along.

* * *

This leads me to the other issue I'd like to address:

The Catch 22 of being an adult adoptee, and in particular an adult adoptee who strives to educate. I blog, in part, with the goal of raising awareness and promoting education regarding the adoptee experience, often using my personal experiences as well as those of other adoptees to inform my blogging.

So often, as adoptees, we can feel misunderstood by (a few or sometimes, many) adoptive parents, social workers, friends, family, and the general public.

Subsequently, I have always believed that a very effective way to deal with misunderstandings and ignorance is to make honest efforts to educate people whether the issue is disease or gardening, racism or adoption.

That's, in part, why I blog--to educate. While it's also therapeutic and a way for me to process and work through my own thoughts and emotions regarding the adoptee experience, I also hope that in doing so, others will benefit from the insight.

* * *

What I am realizing, however, is that not everyone wants to be educated. More specifically, not everyone wants to be educated in ways that do not confirm their biases or preconceptions. In other words, some prefer selective education. (I have to watch this tendency toward confirmation bias in myself as well. We're all subject to it, and hence, we must all be vigilant not to succumb to it...)

What I mean is this:

People ask, "Well how can you expect others to understand what it's like to be an adoptee if you don't help them understand, if you don't take the time to explain it to them?"

True, I say. You're right. What good is it for me to rant and rave about the lack of awareness if I'm not willing to do anything to cultivate and advocate increased understanding.

Hence, I blog and try to bring certain issues to light--and not hypothetical issues, but real-life issues from personal encounters and experiences.

Yet, even with these attempts, I am faced then with reactions from those who try to redirect me, whether passively or blatantly, by telling me that I focus too much on the negative aspects of the adoptee experience and that I need to expose myself more to those who have had a more positive experience.

And voila, we have a "Catch 22."

Please, tell us what you're feeling, please...well, except for that. Oh, and that, too. Oh, and well, that one, too. But no really, we want to hear what you have to say...well, maybe you could say this instead, and maybe leave that out, and well, omit that, and maybe add this. But other than that, yes, please we really value your insight and experience. But maybe don't focus so much on that. You got it?

First of all, do you or don't you want to know the realities of not only my adoption experience, but of many? Folks tell me I can't expect anyone to understand what it's like to be an adoptee unless I talk about it, but then when I do, they proceed to react in such a way that communicates that they don't really want to hear about it unless I'm praising and adulating all the wonders of adoption.

Second of all, just because I may write about some of the more difficult issues doesn't mean I'm a negative person. Criticism does not equate "angry, negative adoptee." I'm simply trying to provide balance.

There is no dearth of veneration for the practice of adoption. In fact, at least in my experience, the predominant perspective toward adoption among the general public and the adoption field remains one of veneration and admiration for those families who adopt. Let me be clear--my goal is NOT to oppose or demean those who participate in adoption, whether agencies or parents, but simply to provide balance to the perspective. You say toe-mah-toe, I say toe-may-toe.

There is no need to fear visiting the difficult and darker sides of adoption. It is necessary, for the sake of everyone involved, and in particular, the children who must ultimately live with such complexities for the remainder of their lives. Children will encounter no shortage of people telling them how grateful and happy they should feel about their adoption. But they also will encounter no shortage of conflicting emotions and thoughts internally, at school, and in the general community. The way to help adoptees to cope with such complexities is not to shut out one perspective to the detriment of another, but to allow them to face each.

Yet, repeatedly, I encounter folks who clearly find it annoying or undermining that I discuss the difficulties of adoption again and again. They want me to "move on," and get to the "happy stuff."

Okay, how about this? I'll "move on" when being adopted ceases to affect my every day life.

* * *

Not too long ago, a fellow adoptee friend, whom I'll refer to as "D" had an experience that exemplifies consummately the Catch 22 to which I am referring. Just for context, D is a mature adult and an accomplished professional. She is a warm, respectful, and emotionally mature individual. She is honest while considerate and understanding.

An adoption agency, which will remain anonymous, contacted her and invited her to speak with a group of prospective adoptive parents. It is important to mention that this adoption agency lauds itself as being one of the more progressive adoption agencies in operation, as demonstrated by its outreach program to include adult adoptees in the education process of prospective adoptive parents.

(Indeed, I appreciate such a program, and I personally wish that all adoption agencies would establish open programs that involve adult adoptees in the education process of prospective adoptive parents.)

Again, keep in mind that the adoption agency initiated contact with D, not the other way around. The agency repeatedly invited D to participate, even after D expressed some apprehension, not because she did not want to participate, but because she was not certain whether she was the "type of adoptee" the agency preferred.

In other words, D very clearly expressed to the program coordinator that she wanted to be able to very honest about her experiences, but that D felt hesitant that the agency had a certain expectation or agenda for what she could and could not share.

The program coordinator (who herself is an adult adoptee) reassured D that the most important thing for D to do was to share openly and honestly, and that if any of the parents had a hard time with what she shared, then all the more reason that D needed to share her perspective. The program coordinator stated that the parents needed to hear what D had to say, especially if the parents were going to be serious about adopting.

So, with such reassurance, D, along with another adult adoptee, attended a meeting with a group of prospective adoptive parents considering adopting through this particular agency.

The other adult adoptee shared first, during which D would occasionally interject her insight or feedback. Eventually, D spoke about her experiences as an adoptee with the group. At one point, D got a little emotional, simply meaning her eyes welled up with a few tears, and she got a little choked up as she tried to explain how being adopted has been a lifetime process for her rather than one with a clear beginning and ending.

She simply wanted to make it clear to this particular group of parents that being an adoptee never ends or stops, but rather it is an ongoing process of maintenance and discovery that is not only wonderful and hopeful but can also often be painful and difficult. Although D got a little emotional, it was not disproportionately so, nor did she lose control or raise her voice. Her pain simply pierced her words and revealed itself in a few tears. As an adoptee myself who has spoken to numerous adoptive parent groups, I can completely relate.

After the meeting was completed, the program coordinator approached D and the other adoptee and thanked them profusely, telling them each that what they had shared was so valuable and meaningful, and that surely the parents would benefit.

D, obviously, felt relieved and glad that she had been able to participate and had been able to share so vulnerably and openly, despite her initial reservations. She felt comforted, as though she had been able to make a difference in these parents' and their prospective children's lives.

Shortly after the event, the program coordinator (who, again, is an adult adoptee) called D. D was thinking that perhaps the program coordinator wanted her to come speak again with another prospective adoptive parent group.

Well, not so much.

In short, the program coordinator basically told D, "You are not welcome here at any point in the future."

Say what?


Basically, the coordinator told D that the agency had made a mistake by inviting her to speak with the parent group, not realizing D's "current state." The coordinator explained to D that because of her "emotional state" it would be best for her not to return to participate in the program.

More specifically, the coordinator cited that several of the parents had gotten upset and had experienced difficulty with D's emotional expressiveness when she was sharing about her adoption experience, and that some of the parents felt disturbed and unsettled afterwards.

Uh, ok? Isn't that the point? To give parents a realistic and balanced view? The other adult adoptee who had shared expressed less difficulty with her adoption experience and provided reassurance to the parents that, despite the initial losses, everything would be just fine. Great. Every perspective is valid. Again, everyperspective.

Sure. Adoptive parents need reassurance at times, but not necessarily that things will always work out as planned ("Sticking with a Wounded Child" & "The Myth of the Forever Family"), but rather that there may be certain unpredictable elements and variations that are normal, considering the circumstances of adoption.

Hence, both D's and the other adult adoptee's perspectives are valid. But the fact that D's perspective was rejected by this prominent and so-called "progressive" adoption agency greatly discourages and disturbs me. And honestly, it makes me angry.

And of course, I can't help but wonder if this so-called "progressive" adoption agency is rejecting D's perspective, which is a very normal, healthy perspective, what are other "less progressive" agencies doing?

It's not that the aforementioned agency was not teaching that loss and grief are normal aspects of adoption. It's that they were teaching parents that D's response to such loss and grief was not normal or acceptable. This simultaneously hurts and infuriates me, because such practices fail the families involved.

It's not that the agency was not including adult adoptees in the education process, but that the agency was excluding and rejecting a valid and honest perspective because that perspective made the parents uncomfortable.

If agencies expose parents only to those perspectives with which they are comfortable, who are they truly seeking to serve, themselves, or the children being adopted?

Look, I know it's a complicated web of trying to triage the desperate needs of thousands upon thousands of children and finding able parents for these children (we must also remember that there are many children who would have remained with their biological families had the resources been available). Due to the multiple stresses coupled with a sense of urgency, mistakes happen and the "ideal situation" often abdicates to "good enough."

But this is all the more reason to continue to discuss and seek out ways to ameliorate a flawed and overworked system.

* * *

I understand that we don't always have to agree with one another on every point. That's unrealistic and, well, simply not possible. But we can provide a safe and open environment for the varying experiences and perspectives of different adoptees.

To shut out an adoptee because her perspective deviates from what you prefer is painfully narrow-minded and selfish.

I may not always agree with every fellow adoptee, but I can respect each experience and point of view as valid and worthy of consideration. It is true that there are plenty of folks out there who do practice such tolerance and openness.

Yet, sadly enough, it is also true that there are agencies and people out there who choose not to demonstrate this basic consideration, as exemplified not only by D's unfortunate experience but by countless others.

* * *

There are so many adult adoptees eager to share their experiences and insight with the hope that doing so will contribute in very real and practical ways to the much needed changes and reforms in adoption practices and philosophies.

Many tell us that they want to hear what we have to say. Many express a desire to consider and apply what we have learned.

Yet so often, when we finally choose to speak up and share our insight and ideas, our voice is either discounted or patronized. We encounter resistance and rejection from the very people who claim to value what we have to offer.

Adult adoptees are not the enemy.

We are the experts, and we deserve to be taken seriously.

Do you regret that you were adopted?

Several weeks ago, a friend asked me a question in response to my June 22nd post, "Why being adopted as an infant does not nullify adoption loss."

He inquired sincerely in a message, "Do you regret that you were adopted? (I know that's probably a mixed bag of emotions with that response.)"

A mix of emotions, indeed.

First of all, let's revisit various definitions of "regret":
  • feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that has happened or been done, esp. a loss or missed opportunity)
  • used in polite formulas to express apology for or sadness over something unfortunate or unpleasant
  • feel sorrow for the loss or absence of (something pleasant)
  • a feeling of sadness about something sad or wrong or about a mistake that you have made, and a wish that it could have been different and better
[Cambridge online dictionary & dictionary included on MacBookPro]

The concise answer goes something like this, "I do not regret [i.e., do not feel sad or disappointed about] being a part of my American family--my Dad, Mom, brothers, grandparents, etc.--but I do regret [i.e., do feel sorrow/disappointment for the loss and absence of] not having the opportunity to know and grow up with my Korean family.

Although I do not regret growing up with my American family, I do feel regret [a feeling of sadness about something sad/wrong and a wish that it could have been different regarding] over the circumstances that resulted in my Korean mother feeling as though she had no other choice but to relinquish me for adoption.

In other words, as a result of being adopted, I am left wishing that I could have grown up in two places at the same time, that I could have been two people at once, that I could have been a part of two worlds and two families simultaneously.

Ultimately, though, such a question, "Do you regret that you were adopted?" is a loaded question that often makes an adoptee like myself feel trapped and cornered.

How can I possibly answer this question without hurting those I love, without being implicated as an ungrateful little brat? To admit to any level of regret or sorrow as a result of being adopted, it would appear to imply that I do not love my American family. Yet to profess that I do not feel any regret or sorrow over not knowing my Korean family would appear to imply that I do not love my Korean family. And why should any human being feel as though she must choose between two parts of herself (I have addressed this experience of "Catch 22" previously in the form of a poem).

Furthermore, in society, however, I am generally expected to forsake any sense of loyalty or love for my biological family in order to give the appropriate honor and adulation to my adoptive family. The two cannot co-exist. I am not permitted to give equal shares of my love and attention to each family. When it comes to adoption, the biological parents are "demoted" and the adoptive parents are elevated to the place of honor (just a side note for comparison: similarly divorce and remarriage can often create comparable conflicts for the children caught in between).

Any feelings of regret that I might harbor or express are viewed as a breach of this hierarchy of adoptive parents at the top and biological parents at the bottom. It is acceptable to acknowledge my biological parents to a certain degree, but only as long as they do not "compete" with my adoptive parents. To do otherwise is viewed as disloyal and ungrateful.

But the truth is that this is not a competition and this is not about what parent outshines the other. This is not about me playing favorites or choosing one over another. This is about real, feeling human beings all of whom I want to be able to love freely, with all of the regrets and joys, the losses and gains so entangled and intertwined that they cannot be untied.

Just as a parent can love all of her children, albeit she will have a unique relationship with each one. Is it not possible for me, a daughter of two sets of parents--one set relational, the other biological--to love all four of them, as unique as each relationship will be?

So, quite frankly, I wince and shrink back when I receive questions like, "Do you regret being adopted?" simply because there is ultimately no way to answer which adequately communicates the complexities inherent to adoption and what I as an adoptee experience emotionally. A question like this oversimplifies adoption and forces us onto cliffs and into holes that limit our options. Hence, any attempt to answer such a question leaves me feeling anxious, threatened, guilty, and empty, as though I have somehow failed those who are inevitably a part of the question.

Perhaps questions for adoptees that would be more helpful and truer to our experience would be phrased more openly, "How has being adopted affected and/or complicated your life? What consequences and/or benefits have you experienced? What feelings do you have about being adopted? How do you incorporate both your adoptive and biological families into your life?" and so forth.

I appreciate my friend's question, and I know he was sincerely attempting to understand and grasp more clearly the adoptee experience. I hope that by addressing his inquiry, I have helped him, and others, to do just that.

*Oh, a brief addendum (in some ways this topic would require another post), but another aspect of being adopted that causes me sorrow, pain, regret--whatever you want to call it--is the discrimination, prejudice, isolation, alienation that I have experienced as a result of being displaced/transplanted...

"The Myth of the Forever Family" by Dawn Friedman

I know the title of this article may be disconcerting to some. But don't let it scare you off or intimidate you. The article was actually written by an adoptive mother (who happens to be a professional writer) and deals quite maturely, compassionately, and candidly with the complexities that surround adoption disruption and dissolution. I found it enlightening and honest, and an important read for anyone connected to or interested in adoption.

I hope you'll take the time to read it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Why being adopted as an infant does not nullify adoption loss


I was adopted as an infant in 1975. More specifically, I was relinquished by my Korean mother no more than a week after I was born and lived with a foster family until the age of six months old, at which point I officially became the legal child of my Mom and Dad.

A commonly held viewpoint purports that because I was adopted as an infant, I will not, do not, should not experience the same level of loss and grief as compared to that of a child adopted at an older age.

A recent blog post, "The Well-adjusted, Model Adoptee" spurred on somewhat of a discussion regarding this commonly held belief. (I suggest reading the post and comments for context.) One of the pertaining comments states, "I do have a problem seeing the infant adopted at birth as having the kind of loss that an older child would have on separation from a biological parent."

I think this is such an important topic to address and clarify because the consequences of such an assumption can be potentially detrimental and repressive to the adopted person.

For the comment in its entirety, you can click on the link above. But in an excerpt from my response to the above reader's comment I stated:

"Regardless of what you may think of adoptees who are adopted as infants, the FACT IS that I (and many others) am an ADULT now, and as an ADULT, I have found it necessary to grieve and process my losses...I...still find myself experiencing the pain and emotional consequences of losing my origins...

My main point is that parents and society in general need to cease attempting to qualify the differing and individual responses of the myriad of adoptees as "right" or "wrong, as "valid" or "invalid" and simply accept them as 'it just is.' I'm so weary of other people qualifying what I am allowed or not allowed to feel or grieve (and to what degree) regarding my own adoption & losses, based on the fact that I was adopted as an infant.

The truth is that I am an ADULT NOW, not an infant, who must deal with the very real and indisputable repercussions and consequences of a life that resulted from being cut off from my familial & Korean origins and subsequently transplanted into a White American society.

The fact that I was an infant when I was adopted in no way invalidates or nullifies the very honest, sincere, and real consequences that I experience on a daily basis as a result of being relinquished and subsequently adopted. Whether adopted as an infant or as an older child, the fact remains that in both cases, the child has LOST COMPLETELY his or her family and origins. The age at which these losses occur does not somehow nullify the consequences of the losses.

There may be varying degrees and varying responses, but the loss remains loss all the same. What varies is NOT the loss, but the age, personalities, and circumstances under which the loss takes place. Loss is loss, any way you slice it..."


In addition, I would like to give practical examples of how and why being adopted, even as an infant, has affected my life and continues to affect daily life as an adult, and therefore, why the losses and accompanying grief are not so easily appeased (in no particular order):

EXAMPLE 1: When I was approximately 2 years old, my family was eating out at a restaurant. My Mom had to excuse herself to change my infant brother's diaper. At one point, she requested my Dad's assistance, so he also removed himself from the table, leaving my two older brothers and me sitting at the table.

The minute both parents were out of sight, I proceeded to begin wailing and screaming. One of my older brothers attempted to console me, but when I appeared inconsolable, he tried to put his hand over my mouth, at which point I tried to bite his hand.

Now, of course, it would be simpler and more comfortable to interpret this situation as anomalous and nothing more than me being a little girl, but repeated such instances occurred frequently, and were specifically connected to the perceived absence of or separation from my parents.

(I have already shared the story of what happened when my parents first brought me home from Korea to their home in Japan in this post.)

EXAMPLE 2: The loss of a genetic connection is profound, and has only increased as I've gotten older. I have spent my entire life wondering why I am the way I am both physically and psychologically. Every time I look in the mirror, I am reminded that I am nothing like my Caucasian family. My personality diverges so blatantly from my parents and brothers. My rebellious, artsy, introverted personality alongside the more conventional, extraverted socialites of my parents and brothers provides an alarming contrast that functions consistently as a reminder of how different we are, how "genetically unrelated" we will always be.

(Just for clarity--I always feel it necessary to attach some kind of disclaimer because not everyone who reads this blog knows me personally or knows that this blog does not represent me as a whole--I love my family and I know they love me, despite our genetic differences.)

EXAMPLE 3: When I was in my twenties as I was boarding a flight, myself and another Asian woman (who appeared to me to be Japanese, and I later discovered that indeed she was Japanese) happened to be standing in close proximity as we both placed our carry-on luggage in the overhead bins.

The flight attendant looked at us both and assumed we were together. The Japanese woman didn't speak much English and looked mortified and confused as the flight attendant addressed both of us at the same time. I looked at the flight attendant and smiled weakly, informing him that we were not together and that we were in fact strangers. The flight attendant looked surprised, a little embarrassed, and then simply walked away.

EXAMPLE 4: Every time someone asks me, "Where are you from?" I have to decide whether I am going to give them the more honest, long answer, that goes something like, "Well, I'm originally from Korea but I was adopted by an American family when I was 6 months old, but we moved around a lot because my Dad was a naval officer, so we never really lived any place longer than two years, so I'm basically from everywhere and nowhere...," after which I inevitably face a line of questioning and commentary that goes something like this:

"Oh, you're adopted, you must feel lucky, yes? Did you live in an orphanage before you were adopted? Have you been back to Korea? Are you interested in finding your biological parents? Do you speak the language? What, you don't speak the language? Why not? You should learn. You really must have amazing parents if they were willing to adopt you? You're glad to be adopted right, because that probably means you were saved from a terrible life? Do you ever think about adopting? You should, you know, return the favor. Besides since you're an adoptee, you'd be great at adopting, don't you think? (and so on...)

Often, I opt for the short answer, "I'm Korean," which in reality, most likely results in the following:

"Oh, you're Korean!" Then the person proceeds to say something in Korean or begins to tell me all about how much he or she loves kimchi or the time he or she was stationed in Korea or visited Korea on business, etc. to which I usually just try to nod and move on.

Yet inevitably, the person usually pries a bit more, saying things like, "So, do you still have family there?" or "How do you say _______ in Korean?" or "Can you make bulgogi?" and I eventually find it necessary to explain myself.

Now if the person is actually Korean, well, then, I either get drilled or I get an awkward, surprised silence that communicates both a slight disdain and displeasure coupled with an uncertain pity and shame.

EXAMPLE 5: The classic "family medical history." This one is obvious, or at least, it should be. Every time I have a doctor's visit that requires me to fill out a medical history, it's a sharp reminder of the reality of the losses experienced when one is adopted.

(And ironically enough, even though I have reunited with my biological family, the language barrier and geographical distance complicate the ability to uncover pertinent information more than you might anticipate. Imagine the strange and awkward responses when I try to explain to the nurse or doctor why the knowledge I have of my own family medical history is spotty at best. Not fun.)

EXAMPLE 6: I have lived in the South for 15 years now. Currently, I live in a relatively small deep Southern town where racial diversity is generally absent and exposure to other cultures is relatively limited. I say this to give context to the following instance.

One day at work, a random older Asian couple happened to walk in. Immediately one of my co-workers asked me, "Oh! Are those your parents?" She wasn't kidding. And then she laughed and said, "Oh shoot. Sorry, I forgot, you're adopted. You've told me before that your parents are White." (Meaning that this was not the first time she had blurted out a similar assumption...)

Now, I actually do find this somewhat comical. But again, the point of these examples is not whether you think they're offensive or comical or both, but to demonstrate the ways in which adoptees can be affected by being adopted, regardless of being adopted as an infant.

EXAMPLE 7: Growing up (and even today), I constantly had to deal with what I refer to as "doubters." No one ever believed that my parents and my brothers were my parents and my brothers.

I recall specifically in high school (my youngest brother and I are only two years apart) being "tested" by schoolmates to prove that my younger brother and I were actually brother and sister. They would whisper a question to my brother (to which only a family member would know the answer), and he would whisper back the answer.

Then they would turn to me to see if I would respond with the correct answer. If I responded correctly after a series of questions, most would by that point stop accusing me of lying and be at least preliminarily convinced that we were brother and sister.

EXAMPLE 8: As a teen and young adult (and again, in present day), when my Mom and I would go out together to run errands or shop, I would find myself dealing with the "doubters" yet again.

For instance, I would be standing more closely to my Mom than strangers would normally stand (like shoulder to shoulder or having a conversation with my Mom). Yet so often, the sales associate or clerk would address her first, and then look at me perfunctorily before saying, "Can I help you?" And then my Mom would proceed to clarify, "Oh she's with me, she's my daughter," after which of course, I would receive a puzzled and confused look.

EXAMPLE 9: At one point, one of my older brothers and I were on the same flight. The airline associate announced that military personnel could pre-board. My brother being in the military nudged me, "C'mon, since you're family, they'll let you board with me." Immediately, I got a lump in my throat, and said, "Yea right. They're not going to believe I'm your sister. And because I'm married now, my ID no longer has the same last name to prove it..." Fortunately, the attendant let me board, but not without a pause and a look.

* * *

Now I want to interject that in the above examples of the "doubters," I admit, in part, that, hey, how can you blame folks? I don't look anything like my Caucasian parents and brothers. But that's exactly the point. The point of these examples is to show how being an adoptee, even one who was adopted as an infant and is a "mature, well-adjusted" adult now, still affects my everyday life. In so many ways, I am reminded daily of what I have lost, and what I have lost naturally causes me grief.

(Now, of course, as always, plenty of folks make sure to tell me that I should not focus on what I have lost to the neglect of what I have gained. True. But the reverse is also true--I should not be expected to focus ONLY what I have gained to the neglect of being able to grieve and process what I have lost. It is not one or the other. Adoption emotion is complex and multi-faceted. Again, the whole point is not whether I should be allowed to feel loss, but that I DO FEEL LOSS, because I am adopted. No age qualifier is necessary.)

Even though in some ways it is natural for people to initially assume that I am not related to my parents and brothers, because of the fact that I'm Korean and they're Caucasian, it demonstrates even more precisely and powerfully, the inherent discomforts and issues that transracial adoptees face as a result of being adopted, regardless of the age at which we were adopted.

Furthermore, these daily experiences that begin in childhood and continue throughout life function in part as consistent reminders of what was lost and the difficulties that result from those losses. That is why, regardless of being adopted as an infant, I as an adult adoptee still have to deal with loss and grief and a whole host of other experiences and emotions that result directly from being adopted.

Telling me that I should not experience the same level of loss as a child who was adopted at an older age completely neglects and discounts the realities that I face on a daily basis as an adult.

Of course, some of the examples I give refer specifically to my experiences as a transracial adoptee, while other examples are more general. But I could anticipate some readers drawing the false conclusion that adoptees who have not been adopted across race experience less difficulty. Again, this would be a misassumption that persists in ignoring the whole point of this post:

Adoption loss is not optional, whether adopted at 6 months or 6 years old, whether adopted internationally or domestically, whether adopted from an orphanage or through foster care. Adoption loss is not something "up for grabs," like choosing a prize at the fair, nor is it for a parent to choose or not to choose for his or her adopted child.

Rather, as stated above, "There may be varying degrees and varying responses [to such loss], but the loss remains loss all the same. What varies is NOT the loss, but the age, personalities, and circumstances under which the loss takes place. Loss is loss, any way you slice it..."


There are a myriad more examples I could give to exemplify the point. (And I just may do so in a later post.)

But for now, I hope this helps to elucidate further that being adopted as an infant does not preclude adoptees from experiencing the emotional and social consequences of losing one's familial origins and being subsequently transplanted (it may be helpful to also read this post on why biological family cannot be replaced.)

In addition, children (and I mean infants also) are incredibly perceptive, resilient, and adaptive, while simultaneously fragile, needy, and dependent. From the moment of birth, infants require touch and emotional nurturing. Without it, they die--literally.

I find it anachronistic that people today still view infants as mindless blobs. Infants experience emotional consequences and pain just like any of us. They simply lack the ability to verbalize it with words. Furthermore, it is a well-known fact that the first three years of life are the most crucial regarding human development. If infants are mindless blobs, the first 3 years of life would not be so consequential. (For a pertinent tangent, please read this post at the blog, Harlow's Monkey.)

Despite what you may think, that six-month old baby is perceiving cues from you, and whether you realize it, you are teaching that infant very early on whether you will be someone he or she can trust, and more specifically whether you will be a parent who will acknowledge and understand the losses that he or she has already brought with him or her.

With this said, I would also like to emphasize that just because your child, whether a toddler or a teenager, doesn't seem to be exhibiting any "outward signs" of adoption loss or other issues, does not necessarily indicate that the repercussions of adoption loss will not surface.

And even more so, if you have not consistently made efforts to cultivate an open dialogue with your adopted children regarding their original families and subsequent adoption, chances are they're going to keep quiet.

I used to be one of those adoptees, who kept quiet. I grew up in a household and an era in which the predominant philosophy on adoption taught families to ignore and assimilate (before emerging research began to reveal otherwise). Basically, don't talk about it, and it will resolve itself.

It was not until my late twenties, early thirties that I finally began to open up about what was really going on internally (after finding resources that had previously been nonexistent). For most of my life I had buried and hidden away my thoughts and emotions so deeply that when asked by friends or strangers, "How do you feel about being adopted?," I would simply shrug my shoulders with a perplexed smile, saying "Uh, nothing. I mean, what's there to feel. I'm adopted. Big whoopee." (And in the meantime, I was in and out of counseling, in and out of the hospital, in and out of my family, in and out of life...)

If only I had known then what I know now. But in that case, to be cliche, better late than never.

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Further reading:

Please read the pertinent blog post, "Learning from Artyom's plight" at John Raible Online, that discusses the inherent insecurities of adoptees, among other issues...