Sunday, March 13, 2011

She's a Broken Record: Why talk about Adoptee Loss again & again?

If you had been there to see my biological mother, my Omma, weeping uncontrollably, uttering over and over in the only English words she knew, "So sorry, so sorry...miss you..." maybe you would more clearly understand the loss, the grief, the heartbreak of the circumstances surrounding adoption...

If you had been there when I, trembling with tears, asked my Omma whether she had ever had the chance to hold me, and then witnessed her being overcome with sorrow, sobbing, and barely able to speak as she whispered that she could not talk about that time in her life, because it was too painful, maybe the grief would make more sense to you...

If you had heard my biological father, my Appa asking for forgiveness, saying "It is all my fault," as he acknowledged to me, "I know you must carry deep wounds and much pain. Although I cannot heal them one hundred percent, I will do all that I can to help them to heal" perhaps the complexities of adoption loss would be more palpable, more real...

And yet, I am expected to feel nothing about the loss of my biological family, about the loss of a culture, an entire people and language, about the loss of a life--because I was a mere infant when I exchanged hands?

You would tell me, "But you have gained so much." I do not argue with this. In my case (but not in all), I have gained much.

Yet in order for me to gain my American family, both my Omma and my Appa had to lose a child. They had to lose a piece of themselves--and I had to lose a part of myself...

To acknowledge this is not focusing on the negative. Rather, it is acknowledging the whole reality, the whole truth about my adoption and the loss that had to take place in order for my adoption to happen. I acknowledge these losses no more and no less than I acknowledge the family and the life that I gained.

I appear to talk about the loss and grief to a greater extent, because it is this side of adoption that is so often neglected, rejected, ignored--because it is the painful side. It is the side that no one likes to ponder or acknowledge. But one-sided thinking denies the very nature of what it means to live. Life is rarely one-sided.

It is simply that, in my opinion, there are many more layers and sides to adoption than what receive due acknowledgment.

Understand that grieving what I have lost does not therefore mean I am regretting what I now have.

But can I not feel more than one emotion, share more than one thought at a time? And can I not view my situation as complex, because, well, it is?

To know what one has gained, one must also know what has been lost. The converse is also true--to know what one has lost, one must also know what has been gained. These are not mutually exclusive experiences. They function together.

* * *

I know, I take up quite a bit of blog space discussing "adoption loss," repeatedly.

If I had the sense that very few people contested the validity of adoption loss, then I would not feel it so necessary to continue to discuss the topic. But alas, the issue of adoption loss and the associated grief still remain an often "debated" topic among adoptees, adopters, and the general public.

So, I continue to try to provide insight and examples with the hope that something will break through to those who still disbelieve adoptees' claims to loss and grief.

I have heard the complaint before that adoptees are no different from other groups who get singled out or are "misunderstood." In other words, why are we crying a river--we're no more misunderstood or different from the other sub groups in society who endure comparable suffering.

Sure. I have never said otherwise.

My point is not to try to make the plight of adoptees appear to outweigh those of other misunderstood or under acknowledged groups.

This is not a competition for who has the greatest sob story. But each sob story often has its unique set of circumstances and complexities. It is crucial to understand these distinctions for not only practical but for humane reasons.

Compassion cannot be present when understanding is absent.

In most cases in which suffering or deep loss have taken place, the general population recognizes the consequences and responds with appropriate compassion and understanding or outcry and outrage. A wife loses her husband to war. A husband loses his wife to cancer. A child is abused at the hands of a caretaker. An African-American man is beaten without cause by a group of police officers.

A main distinction in adoption, however, is that adoptees, unlike the aforementioned individuals, are often expected to ignore and deny any emotions or grief that we may experience related to our experience of adoption. We are not "allowed" to grieve, and folks look at us as though we're crazy or ungrateful if we do. Or the loss and pain are treated lightly like a scraped knee or stubbed toe--the initial injury is acknowledged and tended to superficially, but then everyone moves on, and it becomes a "remember when" story--remember that time you scraped your knee...stubbed your glad you're all better now...

Other groups of people who have suffered or endured deep loss are often not treated in the same way (of course, there are additional groups who experience a similar lack of understanding and compassion, but that's a whole other dissertation...).

Again, I'm not saying that therefore our "cause" has more value or should win a prize. I am simply attempting to explain why I spend so much time on my blog trying to address adoption loss and grief--or as some would say, "the negative side of adoption." No one contests the loss and grief experienced by a husband who has lost his wife to cancer or a child who has been abused.

However, adoptees consistently have to field questions from skeptics and doubters--often almost as though we are being incriminated.

This complicates matters for adoptees who have the need to grieve and process our circumstances at a greater depth.

Being told that you should not be grieving or should simply "be grateful and move on" makes it all the more difficult to get resolved and come to terms with our situations. It's demeaning, patronizing, and simply not helpful.

Can you imagine telling a friend who has just miscarried "it happened for the best" or telling a co-worker who has lost his brother "it was meant to be?" I would hope not. But that's essentially what it feels like to adoptees like me who are trying to process our losses amidst a mob of voices telling us to "just let it go" or "to be more grateful" or "more positive."

Look, I never have a problem telling myself I need to be grateful. I never have a problem seeing all the good in my life, which sometimes makes what I have to face all the more maddening. Don't you think I already feel guilty for feeling sad, for grieving? I already have to overcome all the internal conflict, apart from the outside "feedback" I receive. Don't you think I've had to suffer through feelings of betrayal, of fear of hurting my American family? You don't know how many conversations I've had with my husband, tormented and in tears, about how selfish I feel, how conflicted I feel.

And for what? For wanting to know the most basic and fundamental knowledge--who I am, from where I come.

Why is it so criminal, treacherous for an adoptee to want to know these things? Implicit in this accusation is that I don't deserve to know, that I am somehow less of a human being who should simply be grateful that someone was willing to take me in when my own people would not. Implicit in this expectation is that I am supposed to be satisfied with not knowing because I may have died or ended up on the streets if someone had not adopted me.

What a load of Oscar Mayer.

If someone wakes up the next morning to discover that her right arm is suddenly missing and she does not know how or why, can you blame her for then proceeding to find out what happened with the hope of getting her right arm back, and if not, then at least figuring out how and why it happened?

Now, imagine losing an entire family, an entire people and not knowing how or why. Why is it so bizarre that one would grieve such losses (even if such losses happened when one was an infant, that infant will grow to become an adult who will inevitably grow to understand the implications of having to be adopted...)

* * *

Now with all that I've just expressed, I know I must include the following proclamation to appease and silence those who would accuse me of not loving my American family: The above discourse does NOT therefore nullify or invalidate the affection and love I feel for my Mom and Dad and my brothers. It simply adds to it...It simply begins to fill in missing pieces to the puzzle.

To understand the grief, you must understand that it is NOT my American family over which I grieve. It is not the life I have now over which I grieve. I love my husband. I love my American family. I love my friends. Overall, I have a fulfilling and meaningful life full of love and everything that truly matters. But the point is that I can acknowledge all of this yet still experience the pain and loss, the grief and sorrow of what had to be lost in order for me to have this life.

What I grieve over are the circumstances, the tragedies that transpired that made it necessary for me to have to be adopted. What I grieve over is the fact that my Korean mother felt trapped and forced into giving me away, when she wanted to keep me. What I grieve over is the fact that my biological father had no idea that I had been sent away to another country until it was too late. What I grieve over is the loss of my own flesh and blood...

I think to grieve over such circumstances is natural, because they not only had profound consequences for my life then, but they continue to have profound effects on my life today.

There are those who would tell me that I dwell too much on the past or that I am allowing my life to be driven by loss.

Again, this demonstrates to me a failure to grasp the reality that I spend countless words trying to make clear. I am not "dwelling"--I am simply trying to understand the past so that I can live a fuller, richer, more complete life in the present. And it is not that my life is "driven by loss." It is that the life I currently have began with and was subsequently built upon loss. The primary reason I live here in America, that I have my American family, my American husband, my American life is because I first had to lose everything.

If you had to lose everything to be where you are now, I do not believe that you would ever forget nor do I believe that the wounds and suffering from such losses would ever cease to inform and influence your life in ways both more obvious and more subtle than you could even fully grasp.

And if you say, Well, actually, Melissa, I do know how it feels to lose everything, then I would say in response, let such memories and experience teach you compassion, and then perhaps, you will be well on your way to recognizing the reality and complexity of the loss, grief, and pain experienced by an adoptee...


Cavatica said...

This makes perfect sense to me.

The Byrd's Nest said...

I don't have any idea what it is like to suffer this kind of loss but I try and feel it through my girls. Their grief is so obvious to me and often I get accused of "looking for things that aren't there" with them but I disagree. I never lost my parents but I find myself spending all kinds of hours wondering about their first families...where they are living....what are they feeling about Lottie and Emma....feeling sad that they have already missed so much as the girls are 6 years old now and they will just continue to "miss out" on each day of their lives. All of the little things, like cute little things they say, the quirky little expressions they make, the tears they shed and the inability for those Mommies to hold them and tell them it will be better. I wonder about their personalities and how much of their personalities are in Lottie and Emma. So if "I" am having these thought and daydreams about their families...they must be also. And are never a broken record to me, you are a loving reminder for me to keep my senses aware and sharpened for my precious girls. Hugs!

birthmothertalks said...

All so sad but so true.

The Declassified Adoptee said...

If people get annoyed when adoptees discuss adoption loss, then that indicates to me that they don't really believe it exists or that it's an issue---or they do not for a minute fathom the depth or profoundness of it.

Therefore, all the more reason to keep talking about it, I'd say.


Von said...

The loss, grief and trauma of adoptees will one day be recognised by all, when adoptees like you keep speaking out, telling it the way it is.I believe we must all speak out if we can, not remain silent because it implies that all is well when it cleary is not.
When all prospective adopters and adopters understand this loss as some already do, there will be great progress in adoption for adoptees.
My last post was on the same subject and like you I intend to keep talking......

Amy said...

I loved (and live, and understand) this whole post (ok, except was born and stayed American, so I don't know the same depth of loss you do)...but this was the best:

"If you had to lose everything to be where you are now, I do not believe that you would ever forget nor do I believe that the wounds and suffering from such losses would ever cease to inform and influence your life in ways both more obvious and more subtle than you could even fully grasp."

...that's just it. We've lost *everything.* Any gain after that has to be tinged with sadness, no matter how big the gain.

Mei Ling said...

The problem is, people believe that the damage can't possibly be as much when you were an infant as opposed to being an adult.

For example, if you take the analogy of a wife losing her husband, people will say "Well, YEAH, no one would tell her that she can just find a new husband - BUT - that's different! She's spent her life with her previous husband, she has conscious memories with him! An infant was just birthed out of a woman who gave him/her up."

In other words, people like to "weigh" the substantial weight of one loss over the other by claiming having conscious memories makes one loss more terrible than the other.

Reena said...

Sadly, people DO say stupid things when someone is physically and permanently hurt/disfigured, dies etc. I have heard it time and time again:

"it was meant to be"
"Part of Gods plan"
"Things always happen for a reason"
Etc-- to the point of wanting to punch people and then tell them that me punching them is OK because it is part of Gods plan.


I fully expect both my girls to feel loss and grieve throughtout their life for the loss of their families and culture. I will be very concerned if they do not.

I just don't get people (society at large) sometimes. As a stepmom-- there are all kinds of resources that explain creating a stepfamily-- from the children's perspective.

Basically-- a family died before your family was created. Much more eloquently stated than what I am writing- but that should provide the basic meaning.

With adoption, this fact is rarely talked about. I think it is being talked about more, but still I think it is often glossed over or somewhat dismissed: the fact that the child/ren we adopt endure a great loss in order for them to be available to become our children through adoption. This loss does not end when we adopt them, this loss will always be there.

AND-- just because loss is felt and grieved it does not detract from love and happiness felt with an adoptive family.

Sheesh, I've been an amom for a whopping 3-years and I am already tired of hearing Adoptees have to follow-up their discussions of feeling loss with "yes, I love my adoptive family."

C'mon folks-- other afamilies, life is not flat-- very much 3-dimensional.

Kim said...

Although I have never experienced what you have gone through, I feel your pain through your words and my heart aches for you and for all who have lost so much. You are not a broken are a reminder for AP's like me that there is a painful, hurting side to adoption that must be acknowledged. It is thru your voice, I learn and hope that when the time comes that I can help my daughter to find her voice.

the meaklims said...

I like your 'losing your right arm' analogy. It's so true. And a lot of people just don't get it, which breaks my heart, especially for my daughter.

If I hear the words - she's so lucky - one more time, I will scream...


Shari said...

Thank you for this. My daughter is only 6 and just a few months ago expressed confusion over missing her China Family and wanting to live with them, but not wanting to leave me and our family here.
We haven't found her family in China and yet she's concerned about what that would mean for her. She's too young to comprehend that she could have a relationship with both, but old enough to know that she's lost a lot by being adopted by me.
All I can say is "I'm sorry, I understand that it hurts" I don't know her pain and I can't take it away. I know the loss is real. I'm sorry that any person has to suffer from it.

otjo said...

as an adoptive parent I was so happy to find this blog. I have waded through countless blogs trying to find one that didn't make me want to vomit, punch the people writing or that glossed over the thorny issues involved. I am a single Mum to a now 2 yr old boy and am lucky enough to live and work in the country of his birth. There are no social services here, no support groups or 'experts' but a lot of the issues I wrestle with are discussed here. How can I mark a a 'gotcha' day when I remember that day as unbelievably traumatic for both of us? There is not a moment that goes by that I do not feel incredibly privileged to be a Mum to such an amazing little boy but how can I do this role justice? I do believe that I did act in his best interests, now I need to listen and learn to live up to that, so keep on writing!

mom to two wonderful boys said...

I am a mom to two wonderful boys, we too became a family through adoption. I find it hard to hear people dismiss the loss that any child/ or adult adoptee may be dealing with. It is real. My boys have been part of our family for two years and I have seen that even at a young young age they are effected. For more than a year they woke up every single hour of what should have been nice peaceful sleep...panic, fear, grief,anxiety that is not what children who are not going through something face. I have seen it likened to veterans of wars...flashbacks. That seems the most accurate idea of it to me. Though they were young and the flashbacks may not be an actual image or actual may be just the gut feeling of what occured. They lost all the knew. I can't imagine them "getting over it". All I can do is be there for them as much as they will let me...

Mila said...

Thanks, everyone for your feedback. :)

@ Mei-Ling...I will repeat myself...what a load of oscar mayer ;)...especially now that I have a son who is in the newborn phase (he's 7 & 1/2 weeks)--I am only more deeply convinced of the loss experienced (conscious memories or not) by an infant separated from his mother...

And as I've stated in a previous post, how any fellow human who has ever cared for an infant can conclude that the loss of adoptees adopted @ infancy is hogwash is full of oscar mayer. I mean that in the most friendly way... ;)

Sarah said...

brilliant article and thank you so much for writing it. our 3 wonderful children came to us through adoption and i can only try to learn about the loss that they feel/will feel and how to help by reading articles like this. the thought of them hurting breaks my heart and i will do anything and everything in my power to try to lessen it and understand what they are going through. thank you again.
(i will also go mad if i hear anyone else telling me how "lucky my children are)

ms. marginalia said...

You spell things out in exactly the complicated way they are. Thank you for highlighting ways in which our stories are dismissed in favor of the "grateful" angle.

My natural family and I are in reunion, but there were many lies, and my nmom denied me for the 11 years I first tried to contact her. Things are better now, but nowhere near open and transparent. I always end up feeling like the unwelcome dinner guest. Then when i tell non-adopted friends about it, people whom I would hope to be supportive, all they say is "Thank God you were raised by your aparents, They're wonderful, loving, "normal" people." Which is true, but it erases my latitude to feel able to process and grieve what I am NOT getting from my natural family.

I agree with Amanda that people's resistance to our messages mean that we need to keep trying, even when we want to give up.

And I am thrilled you are enjoying bonding with and watching your son grow! I hear you entirely on how having kids makes it nearly impossible to understand how those "scientists" can say that babies aren't affected by anything at all until they're able to express themselves in the second half of their first year of life. What Oscar Meyer, as you say!

Desiree said...

Totally excellent post. Very eloquent. Please keep talking about loss. And don't apologize for doing so. IMO, it is essential that you and others do so.

Samantha Franklin said...

Very, very well said.

Unknown said...

Smiling as I read this that someone can write what I feel oh, so eloquently, and at the same time, sad because this is how I feel as well...and it is never going to go away completely...and that is just how it is.

And, I am so blessed (beyond measure, really) to have my first parents who love me and accept me for who I am and are my family in addition to the family who raised me. My family who raised me can't quite do the same, but that is for them to figure out and reconcile themselves if they can and choose to...

Sarah said...

Thank you for offering your writing talent to share this story with us. As an adoptee, adoption loss is my lived experience. I wish all of the people heading off on their adoption tourism adventure to "bring home", as they offensively say, a child from overseas, would read your story and actually HEAR your words. Unfortunately, adopters are rarely willing to go that deep. Instead, they join their mutual admiration societies with other adopters, create blogs where they publish every bit of private information about the adoptee, and they and their fellow adopters cry "yippee" when the "birth" family signs surrender papers. Thank you for being a broken record - may we all have the courage to speak the truth about adoption loss as often as we can.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks for this piece. It's all about the heart. As a male adoptee, I believe it's about mending the heart, the loss, the grief, the confusion and the feeling of being different. It's complex and weird, has many ups and many downs, but we go on and on, just making our attempt to repair our hearts.
Sean In Sydney.

Rebecca said...

Loving and being grateful for your adoptive family and loving and grieving for your biological family, are not mutually exclusive, as I have tried to explain over and over. Over and over people criticized me when I chose to look for my first mother because it was too hurtful to my mom. Seriously? She was the one encouraging me to look... I hope that one day people can recognize the different layers and dimensions of being an adopted person. Love this post. Hugs, Rebecca

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this message. As a birth mother, I grieve over the loss of my sweet baby girl. I cannot explain in words how hard it was to give her up. How hard it is to even be alive without her. I am sorry for your loss. Please forgive us, for we know not what we do.