Words She Never Said

There must have been something in the water on Facebook this weekend, because when I logged into my account, I was greeted with a newsfeed full of photos of adoptees who were searching for their birth parents. The faces were young and old, black and white, and they all bore similar expressions of hope—hope that someone somewhere would see their photos and read the information on the posters they held that might lead them to their birth families.

As I looked at the photos, I realized that I found myself unable to relate to any of the adoptees who were searching for answers. All of the adoptees had clues and tidbits of information they could use to help locate their birth parents. If I were to create a poster, it would be empty. The only clues I have to the mystery of who my birth parents were are my face and the blood running through my veins.

So many birth parents out there are well-intentioned and selflessly relinquish their rights to their children because they aren’t ready to be parents or they can’t provide their children with the necessities and opportunities they need and deserve. Some have the opportunity to choose their children’s adoptive families and some enter into open adoptions. Other birth parents have their rights involuntary terminated as a result of abuse, neglect, and/or poverty. Sadly, there are also birth parents who never had any intention of relinquishing their rights and had their children taken from them as a result of corruption, kidnapping, and other horrible injustices. Lastly, there are birth parents like mine, who chose to abandon their children for reasons unknown.

As an adoptee who was abandoned and left without any identifying information, the questions that will never be answered cause me the most pain and heartache. The words left unsaid are the things I long to know most about who I was and where I came from.

I have no memories of my birth mother’s face. I don’t know if she ever held me or told me that she loved me. Did she sing me lullabies and rock me to sleep? Did she comfort me when I cried? When she looked into my eyes, was she reminded of my birth father or, perhaps, her own mother? She didn’t leave me with information about my name or the date and time I was born. She didn’t tell me if I was born at home or in a hospital. She didn’t tell me if I was a good baby or if I was colicky. She didn’t give me a photo of me as a baby—a milestone captured on paper that so many people are so blessed to have. She didn’t tell me why it took her a whole year to decide that she couldn’t keep me.

The words my birth mother never said—never left me with—have formed a void in my life that has left me feeling empty and incomplete. I would give anything to know the health and lifespans of my ancestors. While I was searching for medical answers of my own a few years ago, I would have given anything to have known if anyone in my birth family had lupus. I would give anything to be able to pass tidbits of family history onto my sons, rather than staring at the blank pages of their maternal family medical histories.

My birth mother never told me if my laugh sounded like hers. She never told me if I inherited my stubbornness from my birth father or my love of music from my birth grandmother. She never told me if I have siblings. I will never know who in my birth family shares my love for writing and photography. I will never know if my birth mother thinks about me or wonders about the person I have become. I will never know if she wanted me to find her. I will never know if I was wanted or loved. I will never know why she felt she couldn’t keep me or why she chose to abandon me.

The things she never said—the things she took with her when she left me behind—are keys to a mystery that will never be solved. The action of leaving me—of abandoning me—will forever be a source of pain and loss in my life. But, the words that I imagine were in her heart and on her lips when she left me are the words that give me hope. I hold onto the things she never said with the belief that those words were filled with love and sadness, pain and promise, and hope for the dreams she had for me.

The words that I hold closest to my heart are the words she never said.

Guest Blogger Series: Dawn Hayden ~ Fertility, Infertility, and Adoption

When Dawn contacted me earlier this year in response to my call for guest bloggers, I was excited about the opportunity to work with her on her story. I have to say that I am a huge fan of her humor and sarcasm! Dawn is an amazing person who is so full of life and love for her husband and children, and it is an absolute pleasure to share her story with you!

~ Christina

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“Fertility, Infertility, and Adoption”

I never wanted children growing up—mainly due to all of the babysitting jobs I had. I sometimes think I cursed myself into making my body unable to reproduce. The doctors told me I would never be able to have children of my own, but I’m sure he never had a patient like me!

By the time I turned 30, I was overwhelmed with the urge to become a mother. Miraculously, I became pregnant! The baby’s father and I were so excited and quickly started planning for our baby. We picked out names, colors for our baby’s room, etc. The excitement diminished as quickly as it started when, at my second appointment, the doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat and I was told that I would inevitably miscarry. A part of me died inside that day. Unless you’ve been through it, one can never imagine the pain and heartache that consumes a mother when she loses a baby she was never able to meet.

My relationship was not able to survive the loss, but I would soon discover that it was a blessing in disguise. When I met the man I call my best friend, I learned to live again, and life was really good. We married in 2001 and began the process of trying to conceive. We endured eight IUI treatments and two years of longing for a child that slipped further from our reality with each failed IUI treatment. One day, our fertility specialist recommended that we try IVF. It sounded wonderful, but the fact that it costs $12,000 for one cycle (with no guarantees), we knew that it wasn’t for us.

At this point, we decided to look into adoption. Determined to become a mother, I knew immediately that we were meant to grow our family this way. My husband, on the other hand, took some convincing! After countless discussions and a lot of tears, we started on the road to adopting a child from China.

We found a small agency in our state and completed seemingly endless amounts of paperwork. The day we had to go to our local police station to be fingerprinted was a really difficult day for me. Up to this point, we had people writing letters about our character, we had every cupboard in our house inspected, and had to endure strangers making decisions and judgments about whether or not we should be allowed to be parents to a child who needed a family. We had been through so much, but the experience of having to walk into the police station, amidst pictures of criminals and missing persons posters really upset me. Having to get police clearance to become a parent when women all over the world were giving birth to children every day without ever seeing the inside of a police station was humiliating and heartbreaking. It made me feel like I wasn’t a whole person—like I was a failure as a woman because I couldn’t bring a baby into this world.

We went through the process and created a dossier that was sent to China. My husband and I are both Caucasian, but we were really drawn to China as the country from which we wanted to adopt. We knew our limitations of what we felt we could handle as parents, and felt we had made the right decision. When we received our referral in June of 2004, we were given two weeks to get ready and make arrangements to welcome our child into our home. I was going to be a mommy for the first time in my life!

We traveled to China with a wonderful group of people—5 other families in all. We quickly bonded with the other soon-to-be parents, as we were all embarking on the journey to meet our children. The 24-hour flight was arduous at best, but knowing that we were hours from meeting our daughter kept me going. Our daughter was almost ours!

After four hours of rest following our flight, we boarded a small, incredibly hot bus and drove ten miles to the Nanchang Civil Affairs offices. It was now July and unbearably hot in China.

Knowing our daughter was in the building, my feet couldn’t move fast enough! I could hear babies crying, and felt the tears running down my face. We were told to listen for our child’s Chinese name—a name I had memorized a million times over and imprinted on my heart. The moment we heard our daughter’s name—Xing Quanying—time stood still. Her nanny placed her in my arms. She was crying due to the heat, the long bus ride to the Civil Affairs Office, and from fear of not knowing who we were.

The moment my little Chloe was placed in my arms, the part of me that died all those years ago awakened and I felt more alive than ever before. I thanked God for finally giving us our daughter. She was everything I imagined and so much more. I thanked God for my infertility, as those struggles led us to our daughter—a daughter who was always meant to be ours.

I pray for my daughter’s birth mother often—this woman living halfway around the world who gave me back my soul with her incredible sacrifice. I will always have empathy for her, and will think of her often. I pray that she is at peace with the decision she made that has forever changed our lives. My daughter will always be a part of her, and she will always be a part of our lives and in our hearts.

Hayden Pictures

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Dawn and her husband, Michael, adopted their two beautiful daughters, Chloe (9) and Mahri (6) from China in 2003 and 2006. Chloe and Mahri attend Chinese Immersion School and are both at the top of their class! Dawn is thankful for the infertility struggles that brought Chloe and Mahri into her life!

Escaping the Weight of it All

After a whirlwind year, I decided to take a break from blogging and work to focus on my family and myself. So, I took three weeks off and spent almost the entire time in my pajamas, ignoring work emails that could wait until I returned in January, and watched hours of mindless TV. I think my IQ dropped 10 points while I was on vacation, but it was so worth it!

During this time, I also focused on making changes toward a healthier lifestyle and becoming a better me. I chose to make this change not only for myself, but also for my boys who deserve a mom who has the energy to run around with them, and for my husband who has never known what it is like to be married to someone who is healthy and of a normal weight.

The program I have been using to track my calorie intake and exercise also offers a community component that comes in the form of social networking (think Facebook) as well as message boards. This is a very popular program, and people from all over the world use it to help them lose, maintain, and even gain weight.

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading some forum posts when I came across a thread about Asians trying to lose weight. Naturally, I was intrigued, so I started reading. By the second thread post, I was counting my blessings. I read through nine pages of thread posts and was completely speechless by the time I read the last one. The thread was full of posts from primarily women and teenaged girls who shared stories of being openly ridiculed and shamed by their families for being even the slightest bit overweight. There were women who were barely 100 pounds soaking wet who were struggling to lose weight. They considered themselves fat and endured comments daily from family members who constantly reminded them of how overweight they were. The posters who actually were considered overweight by American standards were made to feel worthless, and were often told that they had shamed their families because they were fat. Many of the posters who were currently single were told by their relatives that they would never marry or find anyone to love them because they were too fat.

When I finished reading the thread, the first thing that came to mind was, “Thank God I grew up in America.” I realize this is not exactly appropriate, but I couldn’t help but think that way. I couldn’t shake the feelings of guilt when I thought about how different my story may have been had I grown up in Korea, rather than in the U.S. The societal pressure may have kept me from gaining the weight in the first place, or it may have had the opposite effect and pushed me to gain even more weight. I just could not ignore the fact that I was the only one on that thread who had not lived with the familial pressure to be a certain size or look a certain way, and I was the only one who didn’t have ties to my Asian family. I am not saying that one way is right or one way is wrong. I just know what has been best for me.

I never really had issues with my weight growing up. I was never considered thin, but I always fell within the normal range for my weight. I didn’t truly have issues with my weight until I was pregnant with my oldest son. I gained a fairly normal amount of weight during my pregnancy, but I never was able to completely lose all of the weight I had gained. I started at an unhealthy weight with my youngest son, and ended up at an even higher weight after he was born. The weight stuck, and I made no attempt to change the situation I had created for myself.

My family watched me eat my way to obesity, but they continued to make me feel loved and valued and beautiful. I don’t fault them for this in any way, as nobody forced me to eat, and anyone who knows me knows that the situation probably would have been ten times worse had someone told me how fat and ugly I had truly become. When I think about it, I love them even more for never losing sight of the fact that I have always been the same person they know and love, even though I had become twice the size I was meant to be.

Things really changed for me late last year. I had always avoided having a family photo taken because I was ashamed of the way I looked. Being a photographer and having two of the cutest kids in the world were always my excuses as to why our Christmas cards never included a family photo. After much deliberation, I decided to ask a photographer friend of mine to take our family photo. I psyched myself up for the session and was actually pretty excited about it. My friend did an absolutely wonderful job and we truly could not have asked for a better first family session. However, when we received the photos, I was so incredibly embarrassed and ashamed of how fat I looked in them. My husband is handsome and athletic, and my sons are healthy and absolutely adorable. And then, there’s me. The photos were absolutely beautiful, but I felt that I had ruined them all simply by being in them. It was also around that time when I started getting comments about my weight. They were nothing that any overweight person hasn’t heard, but they hurt, nonetheless.

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I vowed to lose weight and get healthy, and I haven’t looked back since. I have been counting calories and exercising religiously, and I am proud to say that, two months later, I have lost almost 20 pounds. I still have about 25 pounds left to lose, but I am proud of how far I have come after two months of hard work and dedication. Hearing my husband tell me that he is proud of me and hearing my youngest son say, “Mom, you used to be fat, but you’re not anymore,” is just the icing on the cake for me.

My family has never pressured me into losing weight, nor have they ever made me feel bad about being overweight. They have been a major source of support for me on this weight loss journey, and I feel very blessed to have been able to make this decision for myself. I count my blessings for having been raised in a family where the emphasis was placed on being a good person, striving to reach my full potential, and helping others, not on being a certain size or looking a certain way. I’ve spent my life doing my inner work and becoming someone I can honestly say that I like. I am looking forward to working on my outer self and breaking free of the shame I’ve felt for years—the shame that has kept me from being the mom, wife, and person I know I can be.

Adoption Quotes

In honor of National Adoption Month, I compiled a number of adoption-related quotes to use on my Facebook page. I love quotes, so in the event that some of you appreciate them as well, I thought I would share them with you. Enjoy!

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“If there is one thing motherhood has taught me, it is the fact that part of being a parent is experiencing heartache and knowing that you would endure it a million times over because your child is worth it. That’s how I feel about adoption. The system isn’t perfect, parents aren’t perfect, and children aren’t perfect, but it doesn’t mean that we should stop finding forever families for children and teens and it doesn’t mean that we should stop believing in the good things adoption has to offer.”—Christina Romo

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“If a child is born and raised in a home that is loving and nurturing, where there is complete truth about who we are, you can’t give a child any greater place from which to fly.”—Amanda Bearse

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“Adoption is not about finding children for families, it’s about finding families for children.”—Joyce Maguire Pavao

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“How does it feel to be adopted? How does it feel to lose your birth parents, your medical history, your culture? As an adoptee, I experienced tremendous losses at a very early age. There is a void in my life that no amount of love or family could ever fill. Adoption gave me an amazing family who loves and supports me. My family gave me a place to call home. I will never say that I am “grateful” for having been adopted, because that means being grateful for the losses I have experienced, but I will say that I wholeheartedly believe in adoption.”—Christina Romo

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“You are with your family because they are meant to be your family. Family is not based upon biological makeup alone. There are plenty of blood relatives who don’t get along. In fact, I probably get along better with my family than some of my friends (who are not adopted) do. Family is about love, and adopted children should be confident that their adoptive mother is their ‘real’ mother and their adoptive father is their ‘real’ father. The same goes for siblings.” —Adoptee, 17 years old

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“Love is not a cure-all for an adoptee, but it’s a great place to start.”Christina Romo

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 “Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother.”—Oprah Winfrey

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“There are no unwanted children, just unfound families.”—The National Adoption Center

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“The adoption journey doesn’t end when your adopted child is finally in your arms. The journey is one that never ends. It is a journey filled with joy and it is a journey filled with heartache. It’s the realization of one dream and the loss of another. But, is adoption worth it? Absolutely.”—Christina Romo

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“However motherhood comes to you, it’s a miracle.”—Valerie Harper

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“Adoption was a bumpy ride — very bumpy. But, God, was it worth the fight.”—Mariska Hargitay

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“Though your child has experienced a tremendous loss, it is important to remember that, while we may have our unique needs and challenges, adoptees are not broken and should be loved, cared for, and treated as whole beings.”—Christina Romo

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“Time and experience have taught me a priceless lesson: Any child you take for your own becomes your own if you give of yourself to that child. I have born two children and had seven others by adoption, and they are all my children, equally beloved and precious.”—Dale Evans

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“Adoptive Mom? I am a Mom. I need no other label or prefix.”—Joanne Greco

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“I really dislike hearing parents call their bio kids ‘my child’ and their adopted kids ‘my adopted child’. Children who were adopted are your children, too, and need no qualifiers.”—Christina Romo

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“Adoptive Mom? I am a Mom. I need no other label or prefix.”—Joanne Greco

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“Four Adoption Terms Defined

Natural child: Any child who is not artificial.
Real parent:  Any parent who is not imaginary.
Your own child: Any child who is not someone else’s child.
Adopted child:  A natural child, with a real parent, who is all my own.”—Pat Johnston

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“People ask me, ‘What about gay adoptions? Interracial? Single parent?’ I say, ‘Hey, fine, as long as it works for the child and the family is responsible.’ My big stand is this: Every child deserves a home and love. Period.”—Dave Thomas

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“They may not have my eyes, they may not have my smile, but they have all my heart.”—Unknown

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“My birth mother brought me into this world, but it was my adoptive parents who gave me life.”—Christina Romo

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“Adoption loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful.”—The Reverend Keith C. Griffith, MBE

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“Being adopted is having an abundant life, and more importantly knowing you are wanted.”—Sandy, age 17

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“It has been said that adoption is more like a marriage than a birth: two (or more) individuals, each with their own unique mix of needs, patterns, and genetic history, coming together with love, hope, and commitment for a joint future. You become a family not because you share the same genes, but because you share love for each other.” —Joan McNamara

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“Adoption has the dimension of connection-not only to your own tribe, but beyond, widening the scope of what constitutes love, ties and family. It is a larger embrace. By adopting, we stretch past our immediate circles and, by reaching out, find an unexpected sense of belonging with others.”—Isabella Rossellini

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“I think adoption is a blessing all around when it’s done right.”—Hugh Jackman

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This isn’t really a quote, but being that today is my dad’s birthday, I wanted to post something to honor him. This is an excerpt of my blog entry, “What My Parents Did Right”. I have never been more proud of my parents than I am whenever I remember this conversation with my dad. I am so proud to be my parents’ daughter!

“When I think about what my parents did right, my thoughts go directly to a conversation I had with my dad years ago. I was nearing the end of my college years, and I was heavily into the notion of “saving the world”. My dad and I had just finished running an errand, and we were sitting in his car in my parents’ garage, finishing our conversation. The subject somehow switched to adoption, and my naïve, younger self told him that my husband and I wanted to adopt someday so we could give a child a chance at a better life. I had always assumed that was my parents’ reason for adopting, and I was shocked, at the time, by his response. He told me that he and my mom adopted my sister and me for “purely selfish reasons”. He went on to tell me that they adopted us solely because they wanted to add to their family and chose to do so through adoption. My “save the world” self didn’t fully understand it at the time, but I now look back on that conversation and could not be more proud of my parents. They went into adoption for all the right reasons. For them, it was never about “saving” a child—it was always about forming their family.”—Christina Romo

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“When she looks in the mirror, we want our daughter to know herself. It’s hard to face the world when you don’t know where your face came from.”—Adoptive Parent

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“By choice, we have become a family, first in our hearts, and finally in breath and being.”—Richard Fischer

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“Love isn’t enough in adoption, but it certainly makes a difference. Tell me every day that I am loved—especially on the days when I am not particularly lovable.”—Christina Romo

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“Parenting is a gift and a privilege.  Adoption has healed my heart, and renewed my faith.  Each day, I am inspired to be the best parent I can, by the simple fact that our children’s birthmothers and God have entrusted them to us.” —Sherra Buckley

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“Needing to connect to one’s biology is so instinctive, that people when meeting your adoptive child will tell you, “Oh, look! She has your smile” or “Look, he has your beautiful hair,” knowing full well that there is no biological connection, but sensing the importance that your child needs to know that they look like someone.”—Adoptive Parent

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“We must work tirelessly to make sure that every boy and girl in America who is up for adoption has a family waiting to reach him or her…This is a season of miracles, and perhaps there is no greater miracle than finding a loving home for a child who needs one.”—Bill Clinton

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“Giving birth does not make a mother…Placing a child for adoption does not make her less of one.”—Unknown

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“We look at adoption as a very sacred exchange. It was not done lightly on either side. I would dedicate my life to this child.”—Jamie Lee Curtis

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“Our adoption journey will never end, and no matter how bumpy the road may be and regardless of where it may lead, the fact that we traveled this road together, will make all the difference.”—Christina Romo

I Am Not Broken. I Am An Adoptee.

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.

Why I Am Voting NO

Since 1997, a statute has been in place in Minnesota that bans gay and lesbian couples from marrying. In May of 2011, a proposed amendment was introduced that would put into place a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in the state of Minnesota. Tomorrow, November 6, 2012, Minnesotans will vote on whether or not they believe this proposed amendment should be included in our state constitution.

I am not asking, nor will I ask you, to vote for a specific candidate. But, regardless of your race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, political party, or religious beliefs, I urge you to vote NO to the proposed marriage amendment.

For those of you who are married, I ask you to think of your partner and the love you share and imagine what your life would have been like had you not been allowed to marry. Imagine what your life would have been like had your union not been legally recognized. Imagine the implications it would have on your family, on your finances…on your children.

As a legally married couple, you are allowed to obtain health insurance through your partner. You are allowed to make medical decisions for your partner, in the event that he or she is unable to make those decisions for his or herself. Your partner is legally entitled to Social Security benefits, access to retirement savings, family leave, tax benefits, etc. If you have biological children, you and your partner are both legally recognized as their parents without the need for one partner having to adopt to make the guardianship legal. Same-sex couples currently do not have a legal right to any of these benefits in the state of Minnesota.

As someone who was legally allowed to marry her partner, I cannot imagine the pain of loving someone so much and wanting to spend the rest of your life with him or her, and being legally banned from being able to do so. My husband and I are an interracial couple, and our children are biracial, but we can walk down the street without feeling shame with regard to the makeup of our family. In terms of social norms, our family doesn’t fit into that perfect mold, but we are somehow accepted because my husband is a man and I am a woman. Same-sex couples deserve the right to feel accepted, and they deserve the right to not feel shame with regard to the partner with whom they have chosen to share their life, their love, and their home.

I think of my children and the dreams I have for them. I have no way of knowing who they will be when they grow up, or who they will choose as a life partner. I will love them regardless of whether or not they attend college or become successful in life. I will love them if they are gay and I will love them if they are straight. If one or both of my sons tells me that they are gay, simply by voting no to the marriage amendment tomorrow, I will be able to look them in the eye and tell them that I did my part in supporting a movement that will one day allow them to legally marry their life partner, regardless of whether their partner is a man or a woman. I will be there, and I will support my sons and the choices they make because I love them.

I was raised Catholic, and I have chosen to raise my children in the religion as well. I wholeheartedly agree with some preachings of the church, and I wholeheartedly disagree with others. I love God, and I love Jesus, but I also love my LGBT family members and friends. I refuse to allow my religious beliefs to dictate whether or not I am allowed to love and support my family members and friends and the amazing people I believe they were created to be.

It’s difficult to know whether or not the state of Minnesota will ever legally recognize same-sex unions. My hope is that it will one day become a reality. I do know that I absolutely refuse to support an amendment that would limit the freedom of same-sex couples to marry. You don’t have to necessarily agree with same-sex marriage to vote NO. If there is any part of you—no matter how small, or insignificant it may seem—that feels that it is wrong to keep two people who love each other and wish to spend the rest of their lives together from doing so, then I implore you to vote NO to the marriage amendment.

I am a Catholic, and I am voting NO. I am in a heterosexual marriage, and I am voting NO. I am a parent, and I am voting NO. I ask you to join me tomorrow, November 6, 2012, in voting NO to the proposed marriage amendment, and help Minnesota move one step closer to equality for all couples and all families.

UPDATE: With great pride and love for my fellow Minnesotans, I would like to announce that we CRUSHED the proposed marriage amendment!!

Exploring the Great Divide in Adoption: Why You’re Not That Different

When I started working in the adoption world, it quickly became evident that there was a division between parents who have adopted internationally, domestically, and from foster care, as well as between the agencies and organizations providing support to them. This observation was further evidenced by one of the evaluations I received from the conference I co-presented at this past summer.

I presented a session that explored loss in adoption and its effect on relationships with one of my good friends and colleagues who adopted from foster care. The adoptive parent who wrote the evaluation stated that he would have preferred to hear the material from someone who was adopted from foster care. Considering the fact that I work for an organization whose main focus is on finding forever families for children in care, it wasn’t a huge surprise to encounter someone with this mindset. This comment really stuck with me, not in a negative way, but because I have had difficulties understanding why there must be such a dramatic division between adoptive parents, regardless of where their adopted child is from. I want to explore this division by just skimming the surface and attempting to make the argument that adoptive parents aren’t as different from each other as they have come to believe.

International (or Intercountry) Adoption

Historically, international adoption has been somewhat glamorized in the sense that there has been a long-standing belief that families spend tens of thousands of dollars in an attempt to adopt “perfect” or “exotic” children from overseas. Celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Madonna have even made international adoption somewhat fashionable. There is also a belief that parents who adopt internationally have a “pie-in-the-sky” view of adoption and are naïve in thinking that their children will be perfect because of the money they spent to adopt them.

Those involved with domestic and foster care adoption sometimes harbor animosity towards those who adopt internationally because of the hundreds of thousands of kids who need forever families here in the U.S. The fact of the matter is that there are kids all over the world who need families. When I was adopted, Koreans simply did not adopt outside of their bloodline, and it was something that was frowned upon. Being that I was a girl and not a baby, my chances of finding a family domestically were slim-to-none. I spent a year in foster care prior to my adoption, and my belief is that, had I not been adopted internationally, I most likely would have aged out of care.

Most of the internationally adoptive parents I have encountered adopt from other countries because 1) they want to add to their family, and 2) because they are aware that there are children everywhere—not just in the U.S.—who need families.  I have also spoken with a number of parents who choose to adopt internationally because of the overwhelming fear of the birth parents wanting their children back. While there are absolutely some very naïve internationally adoptive parents out there (as with any population of parent), a majority of my interactions have been with parents who are actually quite savvy and have a greater understanding of the issues than they are given credit for.

Most internationally adoptive parents are actually at a disadvantage due to full disclosure issues. A number of children available for adoption overseas either have little or no accompanying information (familial, medical, etc.), or the information they do have has been falsified or doctored. And some countries allow outgoing adoptions of only children with special needs.

An issue that a number of internationally adoptive parents encounter is the lack of post-adoption services. While there are many resources and support groups in the U.S. for adoptive parents, a number of them do not provide services to parents who have adopted internationally. The main reason behind the lack of services is that a number of the organizations and support groups available are funded through county, state, and federal grants that prohibit them from providing services to parents who have not adopted domestically.

I have also witnessed the “you-made-your-bed-now-lie-in-it” mentality projected towards parents who have adopted internationally. In the foster care adoption world, there can be a stigma attached to spending tens of thousands of dollars on adopting children from overseas. The belief is that if parents can spend that much on adopting a child, then they must also have the resources to fund the services to meet their child’s needs. The truth is, most internationally adoptive parents are middle class and a number of them have been able to adopt through grants and with the generous support of their friends, family, and community.

Domestic Adoption

Parents who adopt domestically through private agencies are often those seeking infants to adopt. Historically, private domestic adoption was often done in secret, as there was a great stigma attached to the inability to bear one’s own children. You will often hear of adoptees who were adopted a number of years ago and found out about it very late in life, or they always knew and were not allowed to talk about it.

Private domestic adopters are parents who are more likely than the internationally or foster care adoptive parents to experience the potential heartbreak of being matched with a child whose birth mother changes her mind and decides to keep the child. The laws vary by state, but most states allow a period of time before an adoption can be finalized (it could be a number of days or months) in which an expectant parent can revoke their consent to adopt. State laws also acknowledge the birth father, in that he is allowed to seek custody of the child even after the adoption has been finalized if, for some reason, he never knowingly consented to the termination of his parental rights.

Parents who adopt domestically through private agencies are often viewed in a similar light as parents who adopt internationally. One of the noticeable differences is that they don’t have the added stigma of not having adopted a child from the U.S.

Foster Care Adoption

Due to the nature of the organization I work for, a majority of the interactions I have are with parents who have adopted from foster care and the agencies and organizations that support them. Currently, there are over 400,000 children in foster care in the U.S., and over 100,000 are available for adoption, meaning the parental rights of their birth parents have been terminated. Many of the children and teens available for adoption have spent a considerable amount of time in foster care and have experienced multiple placements. A number of these children and teens have special needs. When a child or teen is labeled “special needs”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have behavioral or physical limitations. Special needs can also refer to a child who is older, a child of color, or a child who is part of a sibling group who wants to be adopted together.

Parents who adopt from foster care do so in an effort to grow their family (as with any adoptive parent) and because they see the overwhelming need to find forever families for the children and teens in the U.S. While there are some initial costs involved with adopting from foster care, they are not nearly as great as those involved with adopting internationally or through private domestic adoption. The resources and supports are more readily available in the U.S. for parents who have adopted from foster care and for their children. Parents of children with considerable behavioral, physical, and medical special needs will often receive a monthly adoption subsidy to help offset some of the costs involved with meeting their child’s needs. These adoption assistance payments are generally very minimal and, while they are helpful to those who receive them, they often cover only a small fraction of the ongoing expenses involved with meeting the needs of these children.

Why You’re Not That Different

There are many reasons why adoptive parents are not that different, but a few of the main reasons are listed below:

  1. Loss. At the core of all adoption is loss. Every adopted child has experienced loss, regardless of where they were adopted from. The loss of one child is not necessarily greater or more relevant simply because they were adopted from foster care as opposed to internationally. It doesn’t work that way, and it shouldn’t work that way. The same goes for adoptive parents. All parents have their unique reasons for forming their family through adoption. All adoptive parents experience the loss of not having given birth to their child—it affects some more than others—but the loss is there. There are moments of pain and moments of happiness in all forms of adoption. The journey may have started differently, but every journey has its trials and tribulations. It is important for adoptive parents to understand that, while the adoption journeys are different, similar issues are prevalent in all forms of adoption.
  1. Core issues in adoption. There are 7 core issues in adoption—Loss, Rejection, Guilt/Shame, Grief, Identity, Intimacy & Relationships, and Control/Gains (Silverstein, D. & Roszia, S, 1982.) Parenting a child is not easy, and parenting an adopted child can be even more difficult! Most adoptive parents will experience at least some of these core issues at some point during their adoption journey. Some of these issues can be overwhelming, and the need for support in coping with these issues is critical.
  1. The need for resources and support. All adoptive parents need resources and support to help them along their journey. Questions arise at various points throughout a parent’s adoption journey. All adoptive parents need support from people who have been there—from people who understand.
  1. Identity. Adoption changes families, and it can change the way society views your family, especially those who adopt transracially and transculturally. Your traditions will most likely change to embrace your child’s race and culture. The people with whom you associate may change. These changes have the potential to be overwhelming, and the need for support and education will be great.

The pain of one adoptive parent should not be viewed as more significant or relevant than another. Rather than focusing only on the things that set you apart from other adoptive parents, focus on the similarities that can be used in supporting each other. I have seen the power of parent-to-parent support. I have seen the difference it can make when an adoptive parent who previously felt isolated and alone realizes that there are other parents who understand and are going through similar situations. Remember to rally around each other and celebrate the differences, but celebrate the things that unify you as well. You’ll find that you will feel much less isolated, and you’ll be surprised at what you’ll learn from adoptive parents you may not have previously turned to for support!

What My Parents Did Right

I was co-presenting at a conference in July when I was asked a simple, yet really great question by an adoptive parent. She asked me, “What do you feel your parents did right?”

Working in the adoption world, I hear a lot of the bad things, and not enough of the good. As I work through my own adoption issues, I have noticed how easy it can be to focus on the negative. I can only imagine what it must be like for an adoptive parent to always hear about the negative things in adoption, or even the fairytale adoption stories that seem somewhat out of reach. While I believe it’s important to educate adoptive parents on the issues that may arise in adoption and prepare them as much as possible, I also believe that it’s important for them to hear messages of hope and to hear about what went right, as well.

When I think about what my parents did right, my thoughts go directly to a conversation I had with my dad years ago. I was nearing the end of my college years, and I was heavily into the notion of “saving the world”. My dad and I had just finished running an errand, and we were sitting in his car in my parents’ garage, finishing our conversation. The subject somehow switched to adoption, and my naïve, younger self told him that my husband and I wanted to adopt someday so we could give a child a chance at a better life. I had always assumed that was my parents’ reason for adopting, and I was shocked, at the time, by his response. He told me that he and my mom adopted my sister and me for “purely selfish reasons”. He went on to tell me that they adopted us solely because they wanted to add to their family and chose to do so through adoption. My “save the world” self didn’t fully understand it at the time, but I now look back on that conversation and could not be more proud of my parents. They went into adoption for all the right reasons. For them, it was never about “saving” a child—it was always about forming their family.

My family never really talked that much about adoption when my sister and I were growing up, but it was never a secret that we were adopted. When my parents chose names for us, they ensured that we would always have a part of our Korean heritage by using our Korean surnames as our middle names. They raised us to be proud of our Korean heritage by sending us to culture camp, reading us stories in which the characters were Korean, giving us Korean hanboks, and making Korean meals. My parents never received training on how to be transracially-adoptive parents, but they honored and embraced our Korean culture in many wonderful ways.

My mom made scrapbooks for my sister, my brother, and me. The concept of a lifebook was not well-known when my sister and I were adopted. While our scrapbooks weren’t lifebooks, there were some similarities. I have looked through mine so many times throughout the years, that I memorized many of the pages. Since I didn’t have anything from my first year of life, my scrapbook begins with cards from family and friends congratulating my parents on my adoption. The beginning of my scrapbook also includes my adoption records, including information on when, where, and how I was found. They include my very minimal medical history while in Korea. They also include a report from my foster mother and information on my physical and emotional development. My scrapbook contains my passport, my referral pictures (the closest thing to baby pictures that I’ll ever have), and my naturalization papers. My scrapbook also includes things like my baptismal certificate, report cards, school performance programs, artwork, certificates of achievement, etc. Our scrapbooks have always been in a place where we could look through them whenever we wanted. I probably looked through mine more than anyone, as it very much was the story of my life, and I wanted to know as much as I could about who I was. It contained the good things and the bad, and I could read about things I never knew about myself and the early years of my life. In creating these scrapbooks for us, my mom didn’t hide the details about our adoption, and allowed us to learn, in our own time, about our life in Korea and how we came to be adopted.

My sister, my brother, and I had similar upbringings in the sense that my sister and I weren’t treated differently because we were adopted, and my brother wasn’t treated differently because he was my parents’ biological son. My parents encouraged us to do well academically and supported our extracurricular endeavors. They raised us in their faith and taught us the importance of volunteerism from a very young age. We were loved, we were supported, and we didn’t want for anything.

I think the most important thing my parents did right was supporting us through the good and the bad. While I definitely had my moments during grade school, I was a pretty good kid and did well in school. For the most part, it was smooth sailing until I reached high school. I really put myself and my parents through the ringer during high school and part of college. I was pretty much an awful teenager and I did a number of things I am not proud of. I was not very loveable and I did a lot of things to isolate myself from my parents and the people I loved and cared about. I can’t imagine how difficult that period of my life must have been for my parents, but they weathered the storm with me. I fought hard to push them away, and they fought hard to show me they weren’t going anywhere.

My parents did a wonderful job raising my sister, my brother, and me. I don’t fault them at all for my adoption issues, as they are my issues and stem from losses that occurred before I joined my family. The only thing I wish we had done differently was talk more about adoption, though I understand that, while my sister and I were both adopted, it’s not the only thing that makes us who we are. My parents supported me in forming my own identity and provided me with opportunities to pursue my ever-changing interests and aspirations that are part of who I am today. Though I harbored many insecurities (and still do), there was never any doubt that my parents loved me. They celebrated my successes, and they weathered the storm with me. They sought help when they didn’t have the answers, and they truly moved mountains to get me to where I am today. I am so incredibly proud to be their daughter.

Parenting as an Adoptee: When Attachment Doesn’t Come Naturally

My sister and I never talked about being adopted when we were younger. The first time we had a discussion about adoption was just a year ago, when she was 31 and I was 29. A couple of weeks ago, my sister, my brother-in-law, and I spent the weekend in Indiana for an adoption conference. I had been invited to speak, and they made the drive to join me for the weekend, which was absolutely amazing. We spent a good part of the weekend talking about adoption and our own experiences. My sister shared things with me about when I first joined my family in Minnesota—things I had never heard before. I’m not ready to share everything she told me, but one of the things she mentioned really put something into perspective for me.

My sister told me how easy it was for her to adjust to her life with our family. She mentioned that she was out playing with the neighborhood kids on the second day she was here. It definitely didn’t come as a surprise to me, as my sister has always been very outgoing, friendly, and just very easy to love. My sister told me that I just wanted to be alone and often looked really sad when I first came to be with my family. This really clicked with me, and made me think about my own attachment issues.

My desire for alone time has always been a part of me, ever since I can remember. I think people would say that I am a kind and caring person, but I often find myself putting up a wall between myself and others—even the people I love. My fear of being hurt or abandoned—a fear I have harbored since I was little—developed into a need to always keep my guard up. The wall I put up between myself and others is my go-to coping mechanism.

My children are my life, and I would do anything for them. They know how much I love them. As much as it pains me to admit this, I would be lying if I said that my attachment with them comes easily for me. Most parents don’t think about attachment with their children because it comes naturally to them—it’s a non-issue. My love for my children has always been there and has never been in question. But, I often question my ability to fully attach with them. I believe that, due to my experiences early in life, I never learned how to fully attach correctly. I have relationships I cherish and very much value the people I have in my life. I have found that attachment has always been a balancing act for me, as I have often vacillated between becoming overly attached and pushing people away.

I feel like I am really putting myself out there, but there are times, as a parent, when I feel like I do things for my children because I’m supposed to, not because of an innate feeling of wanting to do it for them. There are times when I feel the walls go up between my children and me, and it takes everything I have to break through them. My husband and I provide my children with the things they need, and they don’t want for anything. They are happy, loving and caring little guys.

There are times when I feel extreme guilt because, as much as I love them, I sometimes look at them and can literally feel the wall between us. It scares me to feel this way, and I know that this is because of my attachment issues, but it makes me feel like I am an awful person. I feel absolutely horrible that, even though I feel like I am a good mom to my sons, I’m not a complete mom. I believe the fact that my children both have special needs is one thing that has somewhat exacerbated these feelings of not having fully attached. Every parent has dreams for their children, and most parents want to protect their children from anything that could possibly hurt them. When your child has special needs, you learn to adjust your life to fit their needs. These adjustments include letting go of some of the dreams you have for your child. It’s also difficult to know that you can’t protect your child from his or her special needs. Some parents are able to adjust easily to their child’s special needs, and are able to view the situation from the glass half-full perspective. Other parents greatly feel the loss of their dreams for their child and the guilt they carry for not being able to protect their child from something completely out of their control. I tend to fall in the latter category. My children’s special needs are seen as a source of pain, so the desire to block out that pain sometimes translates into my putting up a wall between myself and my children.

My attachment issues have been a source of frustration and extreme guilt for me. I have to remind myself on a daily basis that I am not a bad person, and I am a good mom. I also have to remind myself that my attachment issues are there because of something that was beyond my control. I love my children more than life itself, and I have developed a strong bond with them—it’s just not something that comes as naturally for me as it should. I have heard some parents say that their child “got over” their attachment issues. For children who never learned how to attach correctly, the ability to develop healthy attachments will most likely not come naturally and will be something they will have to work on throughout their lives. We’re not freaks or sociopaths or bad people—we’re simply wired differently than others and we have to work harder in our relationships. Rest assured, I love the people in my life and hold them all very close to my heart. I love, I genuinely care for others, I feel pain, and I feel empathy. Every person has a burden to bear—mine is just one of the many reasons why I hold my sons a little tighter and tell them I love them, and tell them again…

Transracial Adoption: The Importance of Honoring Your Child’s Racial and Cultural Identity

My parents are both Caucasian, and I have an older sister who was also adopted from Korea, and a younger brother who is my parents’ biological son. We lived in a predominantly Caucasian neighborhood and attended a school where there were a total of five students of color. My sister and I were adopted at a time when there was very little awareness about transracial adoption and the importance of honoring your child’s race and culture of origin. My parents never received training on how to be transracially adoptive parents. They were given a Korean flag, a Korean cookbook, and essentially told to bring us home and love us and everything would be okay.

Considering the lack of resources my parents had, they did well with raising my sister and me to be proud of our Korean heritage. When choosing names for us, they chose to make our Korean surnames our middle names, so we would always be able to keep a part of our Korean heritage with us. My parents sent us to Korean culture camp and drove us an hour each way to provide us with that opportunity. Through the Korean culture camps, we were able to spend a week with kids who looked just like us, and learn with them about the language and different aspects of the culture. My parents bought us books in which the characters were Korean. I remember my favorite was the Korean version of Cinderella. My parents also learned how to make a couple of Korean dishes, and my mom’s bulgogi is actually one of our family’s favorite and most requested meals when we get together for special occasions. It’s something my parents have also served to guests in their home, so it’s really neat to see them share that part of our family’s culture with others, as well.

I remember being really openly proud of being Korean in grade school. When kids were bringing things like stuffed animals and toys for show-and-tell, I brought my Korean flag. I remember even wearing my hanbok to school for a project and being so proud and feeling so special to be able to share that part of me with my classmates.

On the flip side, I was teased a lot when I was in grade school. Even though there were four other Korean students at my school, I think I was the easy target because I was quiet and shy and really sensitive. My family never talked about racism, so I knew what was happening was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t usually tell my parents when I was teased or bullied at school. In a way, I felt like I was protecting them from it, and I also thought there was something wrong with me, and I didn’t want my parents to know. As proud as I was to be Korean, there were nights where I laid in bed crying and praying to God, asking Him to make me white and pretty like the other girls because I was tired of being different.

When I was in high school, I stopped identifying myself as Asian because I didn’t want to be known as different anymore. I attended a large high school, so it was easier for me to blend in. I remember receiving the occasional invites from the school’s multicultural club, and being so embarrassed by them. Blending in worked well for me, as I experienced very few incidents of racism and bullying in high school. At the time, it felt really good to finally feel like I fit in and feel like I belonged, even if it meant denying a part of who I was.

When I started college, I was really excited because the school I was attending was in the city and offered a diverse student population, including a fairly large Asian population. I quickly learned that because I didn’t know my language of origin and very little about my culture, I was seen as an outcast in the Asian community. I looked Asian on the outside, and I identified as Asian, but I wasn’t Asian enough to belong. It was one thing to be rejected by people who looked different from me, but it was extremely painful to experience that rejection from people within my own racial community. When I met and married my husband, who is Mexican, I unknowingly further drove a wedge between myself and the Asian community by marrying outside of my race.

My husband and I are the parents of two biracial sons, and we have made raising them with racial and cultural pride a priority. They are well-connected with the Latino community. My husband speaks fluent Spanish, and I like to think I know enough Spanglish to get by. We don’t use Spanish as our first language in our home, but we do use Spanish phrases and terms of endearment, so our sons have been exposed to and have a basic knowledge of the language. We make authentic Mexican food at home and we celebrate Cinco de Mayo and participate in other cultural events and celebrations. We live in a diverse neighborhood and my sons attend diverse schools. I am actually really excited because my older son has an Asian teacher this year. It’s something I never had growing up, so I’m really happy that he is able to have that opportunity.

Because of the rejection I have experienced by the Asian community, we have been somewhat lax in providing our sons with opportunities to learn about their Korean culture. I do make some Korean dishes for them, and we are fortunate enough to live in an area with Korean restaurants and markets so we are able to expose them to the culture in that way. When my kids were younger, I learned about training chopsticks (http://edisonchopsticks.com.au/) through one of my Korean friends. They are available for both right-handed and left-handed children—which is great because I have one of each—and you can purchase chopsticks for the different stages of your child’s development. My boys absolutely love being able to use them at home and when we go to Asian restaurants.

It definitely takes a lot of effort to teach your children about their race. When talking with our 9-year-old, he’ll proudly say that he is Korean and Mexican. When we talk with our 6-year-old, he usually gives us his best “mad-at-the-world” face and says, “I’m not Mexican or Korean! I’m Caiden!” So, as you can see, it’s definitely a work in progress!

When you become a transracial family, your life completely changes. Be prepared that the perception of your family will change. There will be people in your life with whom you have always been close, who won’t understand it. There will be times in which you will need to examine who the people are in your life and whether or not having them around will be beneficial or detrimental to your child. I feel that transracial adoption is unique in the sense that it affords people with white privilege the opportunity to occasionally see the world through the eyes of a person of color. You may actually experience racism for the first time in your life while with your child. One important thing to keep in mind is the fact that when you are not with your child, the world will go back to seeing you as a person with white privilege. Your child, however, does not have that luxury, as the world will always see your child as a person of color.

One of my friends and former coworkers, who is a transracially-adoptive parent, wrote an article a few years ago that I absolutely love and feel every transracially adoptive parent should read. I have learned so much from her, including the concept of externalizing racism, which I feel is an incredibly important tool for your child to have. Even though it’s the PC thing to say, we don’t live in a color blind world. We live in a color aware world. While most people are accepting of different races, there are people who view the world differently and have very ignorant and close-minded beliefs when it comes to race. It’s inevitable that your child will experience racism at some point in his or her life, and it’s important for your child to be aware and know how to handle those situations. By externalizing racism, you are teaching your child that racism isn’t about them—it’s about the ignorance of others who don’t understand. This is important because the last thing you want is for your child to feel like they are less than or that there is something wrong with them because of the color of their skin.

If you haven’t experienced it already, there is a good chance that you will be approached by complete strangers who will ask questions—some of which may be completely inappropriate. I think it’s really important to trust your instincts in these situations. If you feel that something is not quite right about the person who is asking, or if the question is really inappropriate, it is absolutely your right to say something like, “Why do you ask?” without answering their question, or simply ignoring their question and removing yourself and your child from the situation. Please remember to keep in mind that your child is learning from you and the way you handle these situations.

Growing up, my family would often vacation in Arizona. On a few occasions, my parents were approached in the airport and asked if my sister and I were foreign exchange students. They were always calm in these situations and never got upset. They would just look at us, smile, and proudly say, “No, they are all ours!” It’s important to know when to engage and when not to engage in racist situations. More often than not, it’s best to just walk away and remove your child and yourself from the situation rather than engage. People who have ignorant views on race are not going to suddenly be changed or have an epiphany because you fought back or berated them for their racist behaviors. Sometimes, you just can’t fix stupid, and while it would be amazing if we could wipe all racism off the face of this planet, I think it’s unrealistic to think that a world without racism could ever be our reality.

I have heard some parents say that they don’t like answering questions about their child’s race because it’s their child’s story to tell. But, it’s important to remember that your child is learning how to tell their story from you. So, while it is important to protect your child from racist situations, it’s also important to occasionally answer the questions about your child’s race in situations—most likely with friends, family or strangers from whom you get a good and safe vibe—in which you feel it is safe to do so. I, personally, like to use these situations as opportunities to allow others to help instill racial pride in my sons. The responses we usually get in these situations involve the other person telling our sons how handsome they are, or telling us how proud we must be of our sons, etc. It is one thing to hear these things from your parent, but it’s another for your children to hear positive comments about themselves coming from complete strangers.

It is absolutely imperative that you talk to your child about race. Talk about the incidents of racism, but talk about the good experiences involving their race, as well. Don’t minimize their feelings if they tell you that someone made them feel uncomfortable or badly about the color of their skin. It’s important for your child to know that they can talk to you about the good things and the bad things and trust that you will honor their experiences. Know that your child’s racial identity will most likely change at some point in their lives. There may be times in which your child will reject the racial identity you are working so hard to develop. It’s important for you to lay the groundwork for your child, but you need to also allow your child to explore and develop their racial identity in their own way. There are so many things that are out of your child’s control when it comes to adoption. One thing they can, and should be allowed to claim ownership of, is their racial identity.

Know that nobody is expecting you to be the perfect transracially adoptive parent. I wholly believe that it takes a village to raise a child who has been transracially adopted. It’s important that you reach out to members of your child’s racial and cultural communities and give your child opportunities to learn from and be among people who look just like them. I constantly struggle with the knowledge that I won’t be the one to teach my children about the Korean culture, because as their parent, I want to be the one to teach them about who they are. As a transracially adoptive parent, it’s important to accept the things you don’t know about your child’s race and culture of origin. Rather than seeing it as a shortcoming or failure, look at it as an opportunity to learn with your child. Use every opportunity possible to involve your entire family when learning about your child’s race and culture of origin. In doing so, you are forming a stronger bond with your child and making your child feel like an important part of your family.

Know that there will be times when you will need to step out of your comfort zone to afford your child the opportunities they need to learn about their race and culture. If you don’t live in a diverse area, and you are financially able to do so, you may want to consider moving to a more diverse area. If you are unable to move, or if you have significant ties (work, family, etc.) to the community in which you currently live, it’s important to be accepting of the fact that you may need to drive an hour or two to give your child opportunities to interact with and learn from people who look like them. It’s imperative that you make every effort possible to afford your child these experiences.

I, personally, believe that it’s important to give a little in order to provide your child with these experiences. I’m not talking about giving a little in a monetary sense. Do things like take time to learn how to make an ethnic dish or a dish that is important to your child’s culture and share it with those who are helping teach your child. Take time to learn your child’s language of origin. Nobody is expecting you to become fluent in your child’s language, but a few phrases go a long way. I remember when I first met my father-in-law’s mom. I asked her if she would like something to drink in Spanish, and I seriously think she almost had a heart attack, as the last thing she expected to hear was this Asian person speaking to her in her native language! But, I remember her being really appreciative of the effort.

I personally believe that the greatest amount of scrutiny your child will experience will most likely be from members of his or her own racial and cultural communities. I can tell you firsthand that being rejected by people from your racial and cultural community is one of the most painful forms of rejection your child could ever experience. When I was told that I wasn’t “Asian enough”, it was a blow to everything I believed about myself. Your child should never have to prove that they belong or feel that they are “less than” by members of their racial and cultural community. There are many losses in adoption, but the loss of your child’s racial and cultural identity is one that can and should be avoided at all costs.

The last point I want to make is the importance of not losing yourself in the process when honoring your child’s race and culture. My dad is Italian and the Italian culture has always been very much a part of our family. My sister and I will always identify in part as Italian, and I have to say that we can make a pretty mean meatball! So, while you won’t necessarily be able to teach your child about their culture, you can and should teach your child about yours. A multicultural child will have so much more to offer the world than one with no sense of their culture at all.

Transracial parenting is not easy. There will be struggles and there will be triumphs. Do the best you can with the resources you have available to you, and never lose sight of your goal of raising your child with racial and cultural pride. Every effort you make to honor your child’s racial and cultural identity will make a difference in his or her life, and you’ll be surprised with how much you’ll learn about yourself and others along the way!

Note: This blog entry contains excerpts and elaborations from my presentation at the Crossroads of America Adoption Conference hosted by MLJ Adoptions.