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...