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.

* * *

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...


Von said...

Totally agree that the loss we experience is real for all of us, can't be measured and judged by others who do not know!
My adoption at 6 weeks has left me with life long problems which I won't go into here but they are real,painful and affect my life and the life of my family.Let anyone tell me I don't experince loss or pain at the loss of my attachment to my mother in the same way as someone older and I'll give them a detailed account.
One of the trials we experience as adoptees, like other oppressed minority groups, is that we have to keep explaining,are asked to justify our suffering and experience.It gets very wearying. If we made the assumptions about others, that others make about adoptees, I don't expect they'd treat us with the grace and tolerance and generosity we treat them.
Thanks for another excellent post.I'll post a link if I may.

Mila said...

Thank you, Von, for your feedback and for always sharing so honestly and openly.

"One of the trials we experience as adoptees, like other oppressed minority groups, is that we have to keep explaining, are asked to justify our suffering and experience. It gets very wearying."

So true. Despite the exhaustion, though, we just keep on trying, don't we? Fellow adoptees like yourself help me to keep pressing on...

(Oh and yes, feel free to link any time...)

Mei Ling said...

Yeah, the "where are you from" or "how many siblings do you have" or "do you speak Chinese" questions always leave me feeling so tired.

Simply because they require so much explanation and probing.

The Richerts said...

You have very valid points. I would not argue with any of them. I would also add that some believe that a baby is adversely effected when he/she develops in the womb of a woman that is not happy about the pregnancy. There is some research that suggests that hormones released and the tense or sad emotions experienced by the mother can cause emotional trauma for the baby. Babies know their mother's voice at birth. They can miss and grieve the smells, sounds, and familiarity of their prenatal and newborn environments. It is all real for them. They may not know how to express these feelings later in life. They certainly don't have mental pictures as memories. But it is part of their emotional history and it is very real.
I think about all of this every time I hold my 22 month old who we recently adopted from China. She was in an orphanage from her second day of life until she was 16 months old. We are very much in love with our little girl and she is doing amazingly well. However, I'm not wearing rose colored glasses. She faces emotional and physical challenges in the life ahead of her.
With all that said, I really appreciate all that you share. I glean insight and understanding every time I read one of your posts. I hope that it translates into wisdom as I raise my adopted daughter. I am praying for you. Praying that you will experience peace that is bigger than any of the struggles.

Unknown said...


I don’t often read your blog but one of your FB updates prompted me to see what you’d written. I still don’t entirely “get it”. Maybe I’ve only halfway “suffered” as much as you have or maybe I’m just a callus ass. You don’t have to answer that one, btw! Anyhow, I’m reading your post and what comes to mind for me is, “life just happens this way.” I realized who I am today could have been affected as simply by walking out my door and taking a left one day rather than a right. Any one thing I could have experienced or witnessed on this new other route could have influenced who I am today. I’ve certainly wondered who I might be today if my father hadn’t died when I was young and I’d actually been raised by him. I believe wholeheartedly I’d be a completely different person, had that been the case. Here’s one that will blow your mind… you wouldn’t be my sister had my father survived!!! So having only lost one parent and only been adopted by our same father, I just don’t get the grieving. For me I’m pleased with how things have turned out. Certainly I’d have loved to have known my father but that’s not how things went down.

Some of your examples stood out to me as well. For instance, Example 4, everyone gets asked this question! Myself, as you’ve described a typical Caucasian, I have to answer this question all the time and guess what? My answer is pretty much the same as yours, just minus the Korea part. Hell, I am even having to do it in French these days. So if you think it is wearying doing it in English try it in a language that’s new to you and kicking your butt! Also, Example 8, I think you’ve forgotten how our oldest brother appears in public. He’s as Caucasian as mom, but I’m sure people wonder what he’s doing near our mother! How do you think he felt when the restaurant’s bouncer asked our little brother and me, if “this vagrant” was bothering us? “No, this vagrant is our brother, thank you.” It happens to all of us. You don’t have to be Korean, Chinese or what have you, to be singled out. People do not have to be cookie cutter copies of their families, in my opinion. The last one I wanted to comment on was Example 9: Do you honestly think even thirty minutes after we boarded the flight that the boarding attendant even remembered us? I’ve served this country for a decent amount of years. Also I didn’t ask them to extend that boarding invitation. If they want to offer that perk to our Armed Forces personnel then there is no reason that family members traveling together (as we were) wouldn’t board together. Why give a poop what she or he thought. See, I don’t recall if they were male or female… You’re my sister and that’s a fact regardless of whether we’re carrying all the documentation in the world to prove it!
I’m sorry, I just don’t get what the grieving could be for! …A life which doesn’t involve us, your friends and your kickarse husband?!? Anyway, you know I love you. I hope you’re feeling better and I’ll talk to you guys soon. Your big brother, the Cracker!

Soo said...

Hello. I'm a fairly new reader to your blog, but I just wanted to comment in appreciation of this post. Very validating! I was adopted at 6 months and so much of this post rings true for me as well. Just experienced example 8 a few days ago, actually. Even when I purposely stand close to my mom, touch her shoulder, call her Mom, there's always the store clerk who still doesn't associate us as being together. It gets annoying re-arranging my behavior at the convenience of others. I feel like conveniencing others is something a lot of adoptees end up doing/feel obligated to do.
But anyways! Really good post. Thank you.

Jessica said...

I think you're awesome. Your feelings are your feelings and those shouldn't be discounted just because others don't experience (or haven't been open to experiencing) the loss. Perhaps the loss is more profound with intercountry adoptions compared with domestic. Not only have you lost a family, but a culture, language, etc. Although most of the time I don't believe in gender stereotypes, I think that women tend to be more emotional about feelings like these. Obviously there are male adoptees that share your sentiments, like John Raible, too, but it seems like most adoptees talking about these kinds of feelings on the web and in books are women. I for one (and mostly thanks to your often great analogies) "get" your loss.

I have these friends that are Ethiopian, but have immigrated to the US. They get these questions all the time about where they are from. The kids were born in the US. The kids got so sick of explaining the Ethiopian thing, they now just say, "We're from Columbus [Ohio]". I love the puzzlement this must cause with some people. I know we will get many questions about our child. I think I will have to learn that I don't always have to educate others.

Mei Ling said...

"So if you think it is wearying doing it in English try it in a language that’s new to you and kicking your butt!"

Been there, done that.

It doesn't get any easier or less frustrating no matter which country you're in. In fact, I had to explain ALL. THE. TIME. in my birth country: every shop, every store, every night market, over and over again.

Yes, if you're a non-adopted person, you won't hear this as much. But if you're non-adopted, you don't have to deal *with people of your own ethnic background* asking you why you don't speak the language, understand the culture, etc.

Mei Ling said...

"I’m sorry, I just don’t get what the grieving could be for! …A life which doesn’t involve us, your friends and your kickarse husband?!?"

That's the adoption paradox. It is perfectly normal and valid to grieve for a life that might have been possible at one point and STILL, yes STILL recognize the blessings in one's life as a result of being adopted.

I know you're someone who knows/lives with Melissa in real life. But as a fellow adoptee who understands her emotional pain and is seeing her feelings being invalidated, I have to stick my hand up in the air and point out that she has every valid reason to be feeling the way she does.

I'm an adoptee who simultaneously wishes she had not needed to be adopted - yet I still love my adoptive parents and appreciate the blessings of being adopted. I'm guessing that because of your comment, you might not understand that sentiment.

Not many people (including other adoptees) do.

That's why it's such a strange paradox.

Mila said...

Thanks, Greg, for taking the time to read and for leaving such a detailed comment.

I understand where you're coming from, and the points you make--it might surprise you to know--are actually all points that I have considered for quite some time.

I have some things to say in response, but I'll have to take some time write them down in full.

A few initial, more superficial thoughts in reference to your statement:

"So if you think it is wearying doing it in English try it in a language that’s new to you and kicking your butt!"

I actually do know, as Mei-Ling referenced, what it feels like to try to learn a new language (and one with a completely different alphabet and grammatical structure) and to have to try to explain oneself in a foreign country using a foreign language that's as you said, "kicking your butt!"

Korean is not exactly natural to me. Nonetheless, if you recall, I visited Korea twice last year, once with Mike and once by myself.

The difference between how MIKE was treated versus how I was treated in reference to trying to speak the language was drastic.

The big difference between you learning French and me learning Korean is that Koreans EXPECT me to know the language and are perplexed (and sometimes mean & demanding) when they realize I don't know it.

They don't understand how I can be of Korean origins (even though I was adopted to America) and not speak the language. It's a cultural pride thing in Korea...they expect anyone who is of Korean heritage to know how to speak the language...

So, I understand very well what it's like to try to learn a new language and subsequently have to try to explain oneself to others, and specifically to others who demand that you know the language, and have no patience or grace if you don't know the language because you LOOK like you should know. (and imagine furthermore, if some of those "others" also include people with whom you share the same DNA...awkward to say the least...)

I know French-speakers can also be unforgiving when foreigners try to speak the language, but they understand that someone who is not a native speaker is going to have to LEARN it. They would not look at me and assume that I should know (unlike my experience in Korea).

[ For added context, I have also had the experience of visiting Mexico and Guatemala where I obviously had to use a different language. This experience, although new and challenging, was a much more pleasant opportunity.

Not only is my Spanish much better than my Korean and at least Spanish uses the same alphabet and has a lot in common with English, there was NO EXPECTATION from the natives that I would know the language. So, speaking Spanish for me was closer to Mike's experience of speaking Korean in Korea, because no one got upset with me or demanded that I should already know the language.]

But anyhow, that's not really what I have to say in response to your comment. Just a side thought.

More to come later...

Liv said...

Trying to learn a language that is from your birth country you were adopted from is quite a different experience. That's just bound to have a great deal of emotional impact no matter how hard you try to put the emotions to the side.

Also trying to take on the large mental work of learning a language while having to divert a great deal of energy to processing your emotions about finding, reunion, building relationship, etc. is incredibly difficult. Being in the experience of reunion is an incredible emotional investment.

As for grief... if a woman has a miscarriage, and then five months later gets pregnant again and carries that child to term she knows she wouldn't have that child without having first had the miscarriage. That doesn't mean people should tell her to be happy about the miscarriage or tell her to "get over it," "it's in the past," etc, etc. if she acknowledges the grief for the miscarried life. It's not helpful for people to tell her to "get over it," it's not helpful for people to tell that woman that there's nothing to grieve for. She feels in her heart there is. That's all that matters.

Isn't it better to acknowledge the grief the woman is feeling in this situation? Isn't it better to let her express and experience all her grief, whenever it comes up, so she can express and experience all her joy, too?

I know that for many of us human beings, not being able to fully experience or express our grief, keeps us from full experience and expression of all emotions, both those deemed positive and negative. (Though I've come to believe it's not helpful to label emotions in this way. Emotions just are.)

I think it is healthy for the mother to honor the miscarried life if that's what she's wanting to do in her heart. I think it is healthy for her to speak her loss and have it acknowledged and honored, too.

Now this mother may have a friend in the same exact situation who says she is not experiencing things the same way. That she has put the miscarriage behind her or it simply did not really effect her that much. Just because her friend expresses that she feels a certain way about the experience, does not mean the mother in our example has to feel the same way her friend does.

It's not that adoptees want to wish the relationships that were only made possible because of adoption out of existence. It's not that that mother wishes the baby she's just given birth to weren't in her arms.

It's just that she may always wonder about that other life, the life that could have been.

For adoptees, reunion brings the life that could have been strongly home to their hearts. Meeting one of my sisters in my birthcountry was one of the most amazing and wonderful experiences of my life. But knowing there are years that we didn't share together, is painful. It's painful to me that I will never have that experience of growing up together with her.

Third Mom said...

This is so well said, and is a post I hope many adoptive parents read. Knowing what their children will experience long before it happens, and understanding that there having adopted an infant doesn't mean they won't happen, is hugely important.

My husband travels several times with our daughter, who competes in taekwondo. They have shared the occasions on which people look at them and assume a much different relationship. It hurts them both.

But it comes with adoption territory. As much as we wish people would think before they speak, and would broaden their thoughts beyond the expected, often offensive, responses, it's unlikely that will happen. That's why preparation is so important.

Thanks very much for this.

Terri said...

I wanted to thank you for all of your posts, Melissa. I've been reading your blog for a few weeks now. I'm still in the early stages of reading as much as I can from adult adoptees, and so I find myself without much to contribute to all the great posts and comments except "yeah!" and "Thanks!" At the same time, I don't feel entirely comfortable just lurking in conversations that include such personal and important stories. So thanks to everyone involved with this blog.... I'm hoping I have something substantive to contribute eventually, but for now, I'm an eager listener/reader.

Mila said...

"That's why preparation is so important." So true, Margie. If I knew then what I know now...

Terri, thank you so much for stopping by. I remember when I first stumbled upon the world of adult adoptee blogs, I felt so relieved and validated. I look forward to hearing your insight...

Terri said...

I'm afraid that my previous comment was inadvertently misleading as I forgot to say that I am an adoptive parent. My daughter is 6 months old and African American. At this point, I'm learning as much as I can so I can be a good ally for her and other friends and family members who are adopted.

Mila said...

Oopsy. My mistake, Terri. Thank you for clarifying and thank you for taking the time to educate yourself. If you have not already visited the blog, "The Missing Piece: Thoughts of a Black Adoptee," http://missinpiece.wordpress.com/, you might appreciate her blog.

Terri said...

Thanks, Melissa! I hadn't found the Missing Piece yet. I went there this evening and found that the blogger posts some great stuff!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post, sent over from the Tongginator's mommy. To me it makes sense that someone can grieve for one life while still being glad for the one they have...and I understand how that grief becomes harder from being told that you shouldn't be feeling it! There's nothing to exacerbate a feeling than being told it's wrong.

One thing I had to respond to: "But if you're non-adopted, you don't have to deal *with people of your own ethnic background* asking you why you don't speak the language, understand the culture, etc."

Not entirely true. For example, my dad is an Iranian immigrant. I am half Iranian. I don't look it, which is an odd kind of tearing of the opposite sort of yours - I feel like this piece of me is so often ignored, now that I'm married and my last name isn't Iranian. HOWEVER, when I do run into Iranian people or people do find out I'm Iranian, I get the same questions you're describing, and because of choices my dad made, I have very little knowledge of his native culture or language. I get the same reaction as what you describe, and it definitely sucks.

I guess what I'm saying is, a lot of what you describe (not going into the other examples here 'cause this is long enough) are not unique to being adopted. HOWEVER, no matter what they're from, they can hurt. And while for some people, like your brother (or mine), knowing the flight attendant is judging you is no big deal, for some people (like me), it kills a little bit inside. And being told that it shouldn't doesn't help.

Anonymous said...

As the mother of a 13-year-old girl adopted from Korea, I appreciate your blog very much. My shy, introverted daughter has not yet found words for her losses, but enacts them every day. I let her know I know. I invite her feelings. I recognize that some level of dissociation has kept the words away. I respect her privacy and her defenses. For years she required intense wrestling with me as if to become part of me and separate all at the same time. Afraid of new people, wary of being stared at, she is happiest at home. Until she was four she drew only Caucasian eyes. Then a few years later she copied the faces of Manga girls. Now developing into a fine artist, my girl has spent the summer so far drawing exquisitely detailed portraits of male, Asian pop stars. Scouring the internet for their music, she listens and draws. I'm not privy to her thoughts, but when she shows me with pride her work I am happy she's finding a way to get inside her feelings.

Mila said...

"Givingherallshesgot," thank you so much for your comment and insight. I'm glad you can relate! Your experiences help you to better understand the adoptee experience and our experiences as adoptees can help us to understand the immigrant experience better.

In fact, I would like to acknowledge that previously similarities have been drawn between immigrants and adoptees regarding the experience of being transplanted or displaced, as you addressed in your comment. I even did a post over a year ago where I addressed the odd fact that all my closest friends are African-American, and conjectured that this is in part the case because of the similar experiences we share and to which we can relate...

Furthermore, I have had several friends over the years who originally immigrated with their families to the States from countries including Korea, Swaziland, and actually Iran (my best friend and roommate during college was from Iran--love Iranian food!). In many ways, we have been able to relate to one another over the years regarding the experiences of racism or prejudice and the lack of knowledge of our original cultures, languages, foods, etc.

However, where the similarities deviate obviously is the connection to biological family that my friends retain, and as a result a more direct, albeit not always strong or developed, access to one's people and culture due to the biological connection that has remained. Not that it's easy or easily-accessed. But that biological connection is often underestimated or taken for granted by those who have experienced it...

Also, just for clarity's sake, I don't think Mei-Ling meant ALL non-adopted persons. I think she was simply speaking in general terms within the context of this particular post and my brother's comment.

Just as I never mean ALL adoptees or ALL adoptive parents, I don't believe Mei-Ling meant ALL non-adopted persons. But how else is she supposed to be able to clarify, at least concisely, what she meant?(Otherwise, she would have had to post some mega long comment like I'm doing right now...haha).

How else do we delineate between adoptive parents and biological parents, adoptees and non-adoptees for the sake of discussion? It's annoying, but necessary to have to make such distinctions. Hence, we have to rely on general terms, with the hope that people have the discernment to realize the context while keeping in mind that they are "general" and do not include everyone specifically.

And remember the context of this blog and this particular post. I, nor Mei-Ling are ever saying that our experiences are unique only to adoptees. It's not a competition of who has the greatest sob story or who has suffered the most.

It's simply that this blog is specifically an adoptee blog that serves to educate folks about the adoptee experience, because it is so often neglected and misunderstood (as are many other experiences of both groups and individuals--see what I mean, if I have to clarify every single time specifically that I don't mean to exclude this group or that person, it gets pretty cumbersome), so consequently that is going to be the primary focus.

However, I do welcome insight like yours (really, I do--I just also always feel a need to clarify if I think I have been misunderstood or misperceived), because I think it allows others to realize that we each truly have the capacity to begin to relate to the experiences of others...it's like the quote I love from a novel by a Korean-American author that actually addresses in part the immigrant family experience along with the racial tensions resulting from all the different groups in America:

"I ask that you remember these things, or know them now. Know that what we have in common, the sadness and pain and injustice, will always be stronger than our differences." "Native Speaker," Chang-Rae Lee

The Declassified Adoptee said...

I agree with your post.

Unfortunately, the #1 invalidating response to an adoptee of infant adoption expressing grief is...

"Everyone's life sucks, not just yours."

The difference between adoption and "everyone" else?

Our loss was orchestrated for us on our behalf. The initial loss from our natural mothers, the social context of loss where we live our lives knowing we are different but not being allowed to say so, and having to listen to adoption stereotypes touted by the 98% of non-adopted society that thinks they know adoption better than we do.

It's the invalidation received from others, that is a big reason why being adopted sucks so very much.

When you pit adoption vs. "everyone else," you're basically saying that adoption is the only traumatic thing that ever happens to an adoptee, they don't experience anything else bad in life that adds onto the grief, and that the rest of their lives are perfect. Adoption is not one event. It is a life you live. Not only do we experience adoption loss, but we experience what "everyone else does" as well, which is sometimes an insult added to injury.

Being adopted isn't always lovely. And one of my best friends, who was raised by a single mother because her father cheated and left--that sucks too. Do our experiences cancel each other out and no one is allowed to feel pain because everyone else?

The fact that everyone in life has the potential to experience pain does not make it "OK" to tell one person they have no right to experience it, or go on continuing to be oblivious about the impact adoption has on children and society.

Mila said...


"Everyone's life sucks, not just yours."

Furthermore, that kind of attitude is simply cynical and compassionless. Those types of attitudes, well, I don't even bother to try to contend with, because that's a life perspective that is incompatible with attaining deeper understanding and wisdom...People who choose to live lives without compassion for others based on the logic that "life is hard for everyone so just get over it" are completely missing the point...our collective sufferings are supposed to serve to help us to relate to one another and to have compassion on one another, not to harden our hearts toward those who suffer...

"Adoption is not one event. It is a life you live."

Er, exactly my point. And I feel like a broken record because I blog about this fact time and time again, because folks tend to dismiss and ignore this truth time and time again...

In my small opinion, one of the virtues most lacking and most absent from our world is and always has been compassion...

Lack of compassion is simply an excuse and cop out for not taking responsibility for our role in humanity--those who live in such a way are choosing a bland and dull existence void of a deeper connection with others...

Babs said...

Thank you for this post.

I am not adopted, have no family members who are adopted, and do not plan to undertake international adoption... I did at one time in my life, but have learned so much in a few short years once I made the choice to open my eyes to the realities (like you have written in this blog) that I cannot bring myself to take it on as a white, Canadian family.

I wanted to say to you this: don't apologize for your feelings. Don't add disclaimers. You are catering to the doubters, and giving them an excuse to revel in their privilege and ignorance. What you write needs no apology: it is the truth, it is your experience, and it cannot be invalid.
I was disappointed and sad to see your own brother's comment on this blog. While I'm sure you're used to such things... it was heartbreaking as an outsider to see that willful ignorance and dismissive language. It must have stung a lot when you were growing up.

I'm glad you have this outlet. And I am glad to have found this blog, as I was wearily wandering around the internet one evening while sick.
Don't stop writing. :) I'll be subscribing now.

Mila said...

Babs, first of all, I'm impressed that you actually allowed the research & learning you did to influence your ultimate decision--it seems very rare that potential adopters make that decision.

Second of all, thank you for your words of encouragement. I realize that I don't need to apologize, and I hope perhaps that I'll get to that point one day.

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to understand adoption from the adult adoptee perspective...

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for taking the time to explain how you feel and your experiences. As an adoptive mother I find this very insightful and helpful. Our family talks about this loss a lot and I don't know if that will go a tiny way towards the healing a little bit -I.E starting to acknowledge the pain openly in early childhood, may get the grieving started sooner. I won't change facts however or take the loss away. When we travel back to their country and meet with their families, they look so 'right' together. It must be at least a temporary relief for them to just 'fit in' in terms of what outsiders think but that is sadly short lived. However not being able to converse in the same language, etc highlights the distance, loss and separation. It is very hard, there is no doubt.
I hate when anyone negates people like you who are brave enough to voice the pain and the loss. We can't change anything if we don't accept the reality.

infant car seat said...

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Black sheep said...

I was adopted at six wks old. Growing up I didn't know what my nationality was. At that pt in time there wasn't published research re effects of adoption to an adoptee. I'm justing learning now at 46 yrs if age. If only this knowledge was available previous to myself and my family life may not have been such a struggle....

Black sheep said...

I was adopted at six wks old. Growing up I didn't know what my nationality was. At that pt in time there wasn't published research re effects of adoption to an adoptee. I'm justing learning now at 46 yrs if age. If only this knowledge was available previous to myself and my family life may not have been such a struggle....

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