Wednesday, June 30, 2010

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...


Von said...

Ths stigma never ends and pops out in unexpected places.
The question of regret is simple to me and is not about choosing, any of that.It is a simple 'yes' of course, who would want all the pain, the loss, the confusion?

SustainableFamilies said...

I know how complicated it is. I love my adoptive family deeply but I wish that supports had been in place so that my first mom could have kept me.

It is so hard to live with conflicting emotions like this. Always feeling like you are betraying how deeply you love all of your parents. And knowing that believing that first moms should be supported in keeping their children if possible... it might have meant you never would have met the family that you grew up with and love with all your heart.

I have no desire to tell my adoptive parents my feelings about family preservation, but they do know that I wish I had not placed my daughter, and that I disagree with the way they pushed me into it when I was arguing passionately against it before placing.

And in their case, because they pushed adoption on me, I feel like it's ok for them to know some of it.

I had a very deep anger for their role in my daughter being placed but I also have compassion for the belief system that they hold dear, and that allowed them to become parents.

It's all a mess.

Mei Ling said...

Totally understand; I'm another one of those adoptees who wishes she had not been adopted yet simultaneously often feels like this life is such a blessing that there wouldn't have been any point in that "other" life.

Thank you for phrasing it so eloquently.

Michael said...

It often seems that another regret that an adoptee might have is not entirely comfortable in either world as the adoptee is part of both.

Never really complete in either spot. Hoping that both worlds could intersect and that you can be complete.


Von said...

Hit the spot there Michael.I've just been working on a post, hope to finish it shortly.Pleased to have your views.

Third Mom said...

I think the answer to this question is simple, too, as Von and Mei Ling say. I think adoptive parents parent better when they understand this.

Reena said...

I adopted both of my girls from China and it is my hope that they do feel love for their birth mom-- birth family. IMO-- based on a lot of reading I have done and talking with a friend who is Chinese-- women are so oppressed in China-- they likely really had no viable choice to keep their daughters.

I think this is true for many women in China and it is heart breaking.

I hear of some Adoptees who hate and or are angry with their birthparents/mom for not raising them. I realize that all people go through different stages of understanding and emotions-- but in the end, when my girls are older, are adults, my hope is that they can understand the circumstances of their birth moms and feel love for them, compassion, empathy.

I don't want to convey these thoughts/beliefs I have about the oppression in China in such a way that it comes across that their lives are definitely better because they were adopted and are growing up as American Citizens.

I don't want my daughters to get a message that I think China is bad--My husband and I both enjoyed being in China very much. We did our best to get out without our adoption group-- learned a little bit of Mandarin and interacted with people-- just generally.

I'm not really sure how to do this.

I don't want my daughters to feel conflicted about wanting to have been raised by their birth family-- to feel they are being disloyal to me and their dad. It is OK for them to have these feelings and talk about it with us-- I don't want them to ever doubt that their feelings are OK.

Yoli said...

I think this paragraph sums it all:

"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."

Thank you for sharing.

Von said...

Not for me,I'd prefer to be in one place and myself not torn between two families.

Mila said...

Von, of course, I would prefer NOT to feel torn in two, as I have written about previously and very painfully so. But the reality of my situation is that I practically cannot be in one place as a part of only one family. I have to deal with my present very real circumstances.

And because I love both my families, and I consider them both a part of who I am, I cannot choose one or the other. I cannot abandon either one of my families...

I understand that not everyone feels as I do about their adoptive families. I also realize that each adoptee is unique and has had their own experiences, and those experiences inform our perspectives, and hence we will each come to different conclusions.

As you wrote in your initial comment, "It is a simple 'yes' of course, who would want all the pain, the loss, the confusion?" I, of course, do not want all the pain, loss and confusion. But for me the answer is both "yes" and "no," because I love BOTH of my families, and really I should be able to say simply that I love my family, rather than referring to them as separate entities. This is perhaps where you and I differ, but that's okay and also inherent to the adoptee experience. That is why the adoptee experience is so complicated, because it is so varied, and hence requires that we acknowledge the validity of these varied and complex experiences and perspectives.

You may feel or think that my perspective is somehow wrong or flawed or unenlightened, and perhaps it is. I'm still trying to process and work through it all. But it is simply where I am right now, and as adoptees, we need one another to understand the different places from which we each come.

I want to be allowed to love both my families and with that be allowed to wish that I could have somehow magically been a part of all of them without the pain or grief or loss...perhaps an impractical, foolish wish, but sometimes I just need to be able to hope and imagine the impossible...

Michael said...

Thanks. I also gather that there if the bio-parents are in the picture that the adoptee wishes (on many occasions) that both sets of parents could have some contact and a relationship.

On another note, I am a second father to three - all from different cultures and of different races. Oldest son is from Nicaragua, Darling Daughter is Thai and youngest son is from China. The first two are former students. Oldest son was adopted as an adult. So he added us as parents (as an adult bio-parents did not loose any standing or rights). Darling daughter just adopted us (no legal paperwork) after her mom died. She is estranged from her father.

Youngest son was an orphan in Nanjing and came to us as a 26 month old. The other two were teenagers. We are accepted by Oldest Son's family. We have only met Darling Daughter's cousin who flew in for her wedding.

I am very aware of my role in all 3 and my position as Second Dad. Would not trade it for the world.

veggiemom said...

I'm an adoptive mom to two daughters. My older daughter is now 9 and was adopted at 7. She remembers her Ethiopian family and her life there, a life that she was very happy with. You described what I perceive to be her emotions (based on our frequent conversations about her adoption) very well. She is happy here and I know she loves our family very much. However, I also know she would have given anything to stay with her family. I recently traveled back to Ethiopia to meet her family and I think my meeting her mom and grandparents has helped her feel a lot more peace now...the fact that I can say truthfully that I liked them and could see how much they love her and that they seem to like me. It seems like it has helped her integrate the two parts of her life better. Still, I think she will always feel much like you.

Shari said...

I am an adoptive mom and when I talk to people (often our family)about how much my 5-year old wants to know her Chinese family (of course we know nothing about who they might be) they immediately start thinking about losing her. The part that I have the hardest time explaining is what you said so perfectly,
"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?"
I think I'm more likely to "lose her" if I don't accept her feelings about her Chinese family.

kitchu said...

i'm certain there is nothing i can add to this poignant, incredible post. i am so grateful for you sharing yourself with us, especially those of us raising adopted children. your words are taken deep into my heart, and become maps for our future as i help my daughter navigate her identity.

thank you.

Stefanie said...

Really beautifully said, Melissa.
As a daughter of a divorce, your expression of being capable of loving four very important people in four different ways for many different reasons, resonated with me deeply.
I hope this encourages all parents to not feel threatened but instead encourage expressions of a child's love for his/her birthparents and birth country...
Thank you for sharing your heart with all of us!

Chris said...

Wow! Thank you for this post!
(I have always enjoyed reading your blog...this is my first time commenting.)

My two youngest daughters are adopted form China. Lately my five year old has expressed her desire to be with her first mommy in China but also wants to be with me here in America....she gets frustrated that she can't have us both at the same time. My heart just breaks for her!!!
I am very grateful that she feels she can share these thoughts with me....I just wish I could do more for her....

YoonSeon said...

Really great post. I think that's one of the things that I hate most about being adopted, is feeling like I'm torn in two. And seriously... how are we meant to answer that question when the answer's "yes AND no"?

Mila said...

Sharie, you really pinpointed a key insight when you stated, "I think I'm more likely to 'lose her' if I don't accept her feelings about her Chinese family."

Seriously. Thank you for realizing this, and I hope other parents understand this also. My husband & I were actually just talking about this very fact the other night, after watching the movie, "Adopted."

He & I were discussing the fact that adoptees like me who wish for their adoptive families to recognize our origins do so not out of selfishness but truly out of a desire to connect emotionally with our parents (both our adoptive & biological parents) and out of a desire to feel whole not simply as a result of knowing our identities but as a result of that identity being accepted and loved, in whole, by our families.

When our desire and need to embrace our origins is rejected or unacknowledged by our adoptive families, it makes us feel "lost" to them, incomplete to them, not fully accepted, and hence the depth of emotional connection that we desire with our adoptive families remains incomplete--well, at least in my case. (In fact, I think you may have inspired an additional blog post...)

Fear often accomplishes what it is trying to avoid. More specifically, rejecting or refusing to embrace an adopted person's desires to know his/her origins often accomplishes the very thing the parent is trying to avoid--as you much more succinctly stated. ;) (Being succint is not one of my strengths, obviously...)

Anyhow, I really appreciated your insight, and wanted to let you know that your comment hit the nail on the head.

Mia_h_n said...

Shari, I agree with what Melissa said about her quote from your comment. If only more adoptive parents felt that way it might not be so difficult for us adoptees.

(Oh, and great post, Melissa ;) I think it's very interesting how love so often gets turned into a competition. Unfortunately.)

Elle said...

Greetings Melissa (and everyone else)!

It's true that the stigma can never be solved like Von said and I personally don't think adoption is happy ending.

In my case knowing all the things I know now, it is even more painful now than compared to life pre reunion or maybe even pre birth family search. Basically my birth parents would have have taken me back but at that time it was already to late I had already been adopted...

I also think adoptive parents should show more understanding and respect towards their adoptive children's birth families (if they know about it) because their joy is another families sorrow and they are basically raising some else's child...