Note: This post may be difficult for birth parents to read.
I have had a number of interactions with adoption professionals, adoptive parents, and other adoptees in the past 6 years, but especially since starting this blog earlier this year. A majority of these interactions have been very positive and I have often found myself walking away with a renewed faith in adoption and the wonderful things it has to offer. The interactions that have left me with mixed emotions have involved those who don’t seem to fully understand the need for adoptees to grieve their losses, and expect us to “get over it” or to just be grateful that we have families.
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love my family and I feel so incredibly blessed to have them in my life. But, when I think about my life prior to my adoption, a range of emotions consume me. I feel pain, anger, hatred, and most of all, sadness. I was left in a subway station—abandoned and seemingly thrown away like somebody’s trash. Had I been left with a name or a birthdate, things may have been different. I believe that having the knowledge of something—that I was somebody to someone—would have made my abandonment a little less painful. But, my birth parents chose to leave me with nothing. I was a child without a name…without a birthdate…I was nobody.
Well-meaning people often try to tell me how much my birth parents loved me. I understand and appreciate the sentiments behind their words—I really do. But, rather than making me feel better about my situation, I have found that it actually makes me feel worse. Ever since I can remember, I have imagined every possible scenario of my life prior to my adoption. I have imagined myself with loving birth parents with no other choice than to abandon me and hope for the best. I have imagined myself with abusive birth parents who threw me away because they never wanted me in the first place. I have imagined my birth parents dying and their family abandoning me because they couldn’t care for me. Regardless of the scenario, they all end with my being abandoned.
I have a right to feel abandoned, because I WAS abandoned. I have a right to feel pain because the people who brought me into this world chose not to parent me. I have a right to feel anger and hatred for the people who were supposed to love me and always be there for me and ultimately decided to abandon me. I have a right to feel sadness. I have a right to grieve the loss of a life and a family that will never be mine.
It’s difficult for me to hear that my birth parents loved me. I don’t know that to be true, so how could anyone else possibly know? It is one thing for a birth parent to choose adoption for their child and go through a child welfare organization to do so, but I have to admit that I have always felt some resentment towards my birth parents for abandoning me in a random location—not knowing who would find me or where I would end up. For me, it’s easier to believe that my birth parents didn’t want me, because it allows me a sense of closure. I have no desire to know someone who didn’t want me. Believing that my birth parents loved me is just too painful for me to bear. It’s too painful to imagine someone out there loving me—someone out there whom I will never know. I know I look like someone, and I know my laugh sounds like someone else’s laugh. I know someone out there has a piece of my heart that I will never get back. I will live my life with questions that will remain unanswered, and I will forever mourn the loss of a complete stranger who made the decision not to know me all those years ago.
Sharing my story has been extremely cathartic for me. I have also been empowered by the realization that my voice matters and is actually helping others. But, I also realize that well-meaning people often have the urge to fix things and make things better. I get it. I tend to be a “fixer”, as well. Through my volunteer work of providing crisis counseling and advocacy to victims and survivors of sexual violence, I have discovered the art of listening. I have learned that the moments in which nobody says a word can be just as powerful and therapeutic as those moments in which words of understanding, support, empowerment, and validation are shared.
I feel it is important for people to know that I am an adoptee, but I am not broken. Adoptees don’t need fixing—they need understanding. Trying to explain away an adoptee’s pain may help you feel better about the situation, but it minimizes the very experiences that have shaped our lives. We need to unapologetically be allowed to feel our pain, our sadness, our anger, and our grief. Many of us don’t need or want pity. We need the support of people who will allow us to sit with our pain without trying to mask it or minimize it or make it go away. The ability to acknowledge and confront our pain is essential to the healing process. We need to be able to feel our pain and heal in our own time. Please don’t ask us to “get over it”, because it’s not that simple and the healing process doesn’t work that way. Rather, please consider offering us your listening ear, your support, your validation, and your understanding. In doing so, you will make more of a difference than you will ever know.
14 thoughts on “I Am Not Broken. I Am An Adoptee.”
The best yet. We need to include it as a handout in our workshop and I would love your permission to share it in other training I do. Thank you for your wisdom and eloquence.
Absolutely! I’ll email you a Word version of this post. Thanks so much, Kim!
I suppose you are saying that accepting and embracing the bare bones and brutal reality of the situation is therapeutic. Ignoring someones feelings by hiding or romancing the reality of the abandonment and its aftermath is “not helpful”.
I believe it’s different for everyone. For me, the only facts I have are that I was abandoned and I was found with bruises around my eyes. That is my cold, hard truth. My birth parents didn’t give me an option of knowing anything else, so delving further into the situation and trying to figure out what must have happened does me no good. It would only be speculation in my case. Fantasizing about what might have happened only adds pain because of the knowledge that I will never know the truth. These are my thoughts and my feelings. Some adoptees may agree and others may not. Our adoption journeys are our own.
I went back to the email you sent me and I know you were blessed with information about your children’s birth mothers. If you have the knowledge to share with them, then by all means, please do so and ensure that it is done in a manner that is respectful to both your children and their birth mothers. The opportunities for adoptees to learn about themselves through open adoptions or tidbits of information about their birth families and where they came from is absolutely ideal in most situations.
I, unfortunately, will never have that luxury of knowing…
Fabulous essay! As they used to say long ago—right on!
Knowing the truth, however hard, is of utmost importance for children so they can heal. Sugar coating and making up pretty stories is a disservice. There is a time and a place for sharing harsh information about painful parts of life, but children need honesty. I am not adopted, but my birth family adopted two children, and we were all abused and neglected. I actually prayed that I would be adopted by a family who could love me in the way I needed to be loved. Every time someone told me that my parents loved me and I should be grateful it was another figurative slap in the face because I knew better. Maybe my parents loved me in the best way they knew how, but it was still a life that was not healthy for any child, and my reality was a painful reality. It took me 33 years to stop looking for parents to love me and to heal, but I finally found my “forever family.” Some of my siblings still try to sugar coat their memories and my memories and tell me that my childhood wasn’t that horrible, but I know better. Just because I have a wonderful family now, and I am happy now does not mean my reality then wasn’t horrible, and if I could have talked about the pain earlier on in life I would have healed a lot sooner.
This is such a wonderful essay!
What a powerful essay. Thank you. My husband and I really wanted “something” to be able to tell our daughter: when she was born exactly, a name, etc., but there was nothing for us to give to her. In her paperwork, the orphanage did mention that she was wearing a red outfit and was covered in a yellow blanket. Did they save that for us? No. We were told that the director of the orphanage didn’t think that we wanted to be bothered by them and that they would not be important to us so they were discarded.
I later learned that there are “some” babies that do indeed come with little notes and/or tokens, but depending on the orphange some of these are kept to be given to parents and some are thrown away.
Again, your raw honesty is being taken to heart. Blessings on you and your family.
I look forward to reading the answers on this topic. I, too, am adopted, and I also have not been interested in finding my birth parents. Sure, I was mildly curious, and if you handed me an envelope with the info I would open it, but the benefits didn’t seem worth the trouble and emotional strain. Recently I have been starting to feel differently. Mainly, I think, because my mother died a year and a half ago. Not only does this mean that I could look without hurting her or making her anxious, but it also brings home that the window to find my birth mother will not be open forever — she is getting older, too.
I was adopted from China when I was less than a year old, and I have not found anything that comes as close to how I feel about it as this essay does. I love my parents with all of my being. But there are moments where I wonder, and when those moments arise, I find myself wanting to have a solid reason for hating the people who left me on the curb of a sidewalk. They had no idea if I would be in an orphanage for my entire childhood, or if the rotten conditions would kill me before I even got the chance to experience life. Maybe they were trying for a boy, or maybe they loved me. Maybe they’re dead. But nothing changes the fact that they abandoned me without leaving even the kindness of a note. I feel so fortunate to have the family I have, and the opportunity to go to college, which is so much more than I could have expected if I had not been adopted. It makes me love my parents so much more when I remember how long they waited for me and how much they WANTED me. They wanted me. And that feels amazing. Your essay was beautifully written and it made me cry more than I have in ages because it was so relatable to me. Thank you.
Yesterday my daughter celebrated her sixth birthday. We celebrated the day, although we are not one hundred percent sure that is her actual birth date. The Chinese government assigned that day based on what she weighted when they found her near the foot of a bridge. Our little love went from orphanage, to foster care, then back to an orphanage all the while we waited to meet her for the first time. From the moment I held her, she was mine. She was no longer unwanted. We came home with a beautiful 10 month old who was so WANTED! I always felt NO love loss for the woman who gave birth to my daughter. I always felt no desire to sympathize for her loss. Many adoptive parents talk of thanking the birth mom and honoring her, however I have never. I always kept my feeling to myself until I just read your blog post. It reassured me that my feeling were legit! Thank you for that. Thank you also for giving me the insight on how to approach this with my daughter for when this emotion will hit her. It certainly is not if this happens, but when.
Reading this made me cry. I think it sums up how I feel having been abandoned. I was left on the side of the road, and found by a policeman. That’s all I’ll ever know. It sounds silly maybe, to wonder if I was wrapped in anything. To wonder if they even did care. But then the wondering can go and on so better not too. I used to be so angry. Now I just wish I knew why.
I’m sorry I shouldn’t be replying to a post so old maybe, but it was just great reading it. I hate it when people think they can understand or think because I have a wonderful family now, I should just be able to ‘get over my adoption’. Some people have said, ‘it’s not like you remember it anyway’. Hell, even my parents have implied it.
Thanks for publishing this and working for advocacy, more people will understand soon hopefully. Thank you for helping me feel less alone.
As a Korean adoptee (also with an Italian father and anglo mother), I think it’s important to acknowledge the opposite perspective of your experience. Many adoptees find abusive situations in their adopted families. They feel quite differently about their birth mothers. Many do not consider that they had birth parents due to the unstable circumstances that brought them to adoption. I empathize with my birth mother (also having never met her) since she did carry me for the full term. I know it was not easy to give me up and that decision was fueled by circumstances out of her control as well. Perhaps she was raped. Perhaps she knew she was too young or not suited to raise a child at that time. She did give me life however precariously it may have panned out in those first moments. My adopted family, however, attempted to give me an upbringing. Due to their own family legacies, they did the best that they could. My parents are (father deceased for over 20 years now) my parents but my birth mother shared with me connections I have yet to discover, even at age 37. There are stories about her life I will never know. Her childhood will remain as much a mystery to me as the events that led her to bring me elsewhere. Somewhere I would be safe. For that, alone, I cannot express enough gratitude. Just another thought after reading your, generously, shared words.