Dear Subway Station Baby

I will never know the truth of what happened when I was abandoned in a subway station in Seoul, South Korea over 30 years ago. I struggle often with recognizing my value and my worth in this world. I have often wondered about the people who saw me and heard my cries, but chose to do nothing. I wonder if it would have made a difference in my perception of my worth and my view of the world had someone shown me love and compassion in that moment when I truly needed it the most. This letter is written from the perspective of that one person who saw me that day and has lived with the guilt of making that fateful decision to walk away.

*****

Dear Subway Station Baby:

I don’t know your name. I don’t know if you survived or where you ended up in the world. I don’t know anything about you, but I will never forget your face.

I saw the fear and confusion and grief in your eyes when you watched as the only life you knew walked away and left you behind to face the world alone. I saw you crying out in loneliness and despair, yearning for the familiar embrace you knew in your heart you would never feel again. I watched as you began to build the walls to protect the broken pieces of your heart as the world turned its back on you. My heart broke with yours the moment you realized how little you were valued…how little you seemed to matter to the world. I saw as you tucked away those feelings of worthlessness and grief, vowing to carry them with you always…not yet knowing the profound impact those feelings would have on the entire trajectory of your life and how they would shape the very foundation of the woman you would become.

I watched you shrink away as you began to fear the world…as you realized that even the people who were supposed to love you couldn’t be trusted. I watched you grow quiet as your cries went unheard. I watched as you fought to hold onto some semblance of hope…as you fought against the forces that attempted to harden your heart. I watched as you struggled to continue shining your light as the darkness surrounded you.

Would your life have somehow been different had I taken you in my arms the moment I saw you? Would you have been able to see the world in a different light had I comforted you when I heard your cries? Would you have built the walls around your heart if I had protected you…if I had somehow made you feel safe? Would the broken pieces of your heart have formed a stronger bond had you felt the warmth of my embrace and listened as I told you how much you were loved…how much you were wanted? Would you have lived your life believing in your worth if I had held you and told you how much you mattered to this world? Would you have held onto hope if I had told you that you were brought into this world for a reason…that your life had meaning and purpose? Would you have learned to be kind to yourself had I shown you compassion and kindness when you needed it the most?

I know I don’t deserve to know what became of you, but I want you to know that your cries have haunted me since that day I chose myself over you. I was in a rush to go nowhere, and I couldn’t be bothered with wasting a minute of my time on comforting your cries…on making sure you were safe. I chose to turn my back on you in your darkest hour. I know I don’t deserve to say these words to you, but I need to find a way to bring you comfort and a way to forgive myself, even if this is 30+ years too late. I will never forgive myself if I don’t tell you what I have always wished I had done for you…the comforting and loving words I wish I had shared with you that day.

I remember watching in horror as she held you close one last time, kissing your tiny cheeks, and hurrying away, barely able to breathe or see through her tears. She ran as quickly as her legs would allow, knowing she wouldn’t have the strength to leave you if she saw your sweet face again. As I turned my attention back to you, I saw that you had bruises around your eyes and your face had become red and swollen from the intensity of your cries. In that moment, I chose to turn my back on you…I chose to do nothing. I often think back on that moment with heartbreaking regret.

I chose to run away from you when I should have run towards you. I wish I had held you in my arms and comforted your cries. I wish I had shielded you from the cold, harsh realities of the world and told you that everything would be okay. I wish I had looked at your sweet face, riddled with bruises and stained with tears, and told you how beautiful you were. I wish I had told you that you would never be alone and that you were safe. I wish I had held you close to my heart and told you how cherished and loved you were. I wish I had been there to hold the tiny pieces of your heart together as the world fell apart around you. I wish I had held your tiny hand and told you how much you mattered to the world…how much you mattered to me. I wish I had reminded you of your worth as you grieved the loss of everything you once knew. I wish I had fought beside you as life tried to take away your hope…as the darkness tried to steal your light. Though I didn’t know you, I wish I had told you in that moment of my hopes and dreams for you…I wish I had given you something to hold onto in that moment when you lost everything. I wish I had been strong enough to show you that, while some people in your life will leave you, there will always be someone who will choose to stay.

I wasn’t the one who left you, but I made the choice to do nothing at a moment in your life when even the smallest ounce of compassion could have made a world of difference for you. I failed you in that moment, and I will carry that guilt with me for the rest of my life. I will always regret never telling you how much you mattered or taking the time to show you that your life had value. I will always regret depriving you of the opportunity to know your true worth when you needed to be reminded of it the most. I will always regret doing nothing.

I failed to show you how much you mattered to me that day, but I need you to know that even though I don’t know your name, you have made a profound impact on my heart and in my life. I need you to know that I have carried your tiny footprints on my heart ever since that day…ever since that moment when I chose to walk away.

Signed With Deep Regret,

The One Who Walked Away

 

Loving My Misunderstood Child

My youngest son had a really rough day today.

As with many parents who receive fairly frequent communications from their child’s school, I always cringe when I see the name of my son’s school appear on my phone. There is always that moment before you pick up the phone where you pause, brace yourself, and take one last breath before answering. The voice on the other end of the phone is often different, but the message is usually the same. Your son was misbehaving, he was sent to the refocus room, and now he has completely escalated. Can you talk to him? [Insert the muffled sound of my son’s very agitated voice.] Okay, he is refusing to come to the phone. Can you just make sure you talk to him at home about showing respect, listening to his teachers, and following the rules?

Can you tell that I have been the recipient of just a few of these calls? I am convinced my son’s school has my number on speed dial.

The way my husband and I have addressed these issues with our son has varied quite a bit throughout the years. We are constantly learning, and just as our son has challenging days, we have pretty rough days that can affect the way we react to these types of situations as well.

As I was watching the clock tick by and waiting for my little guy to get home this afternoon, I vacillated between being very upset and annoyed by the situation, and feeling compassion for my son who lives in a world that doesn’t seem to understand him. When he got home, I heard the familiar slam of the porch door and the creak of the front door as he slowly made his way inside. The expression on his face was a heartbreaking mixture of anger, defeat, worry, and sadness. Without saying a word, I motioned for him to join me on the couch where he fell into my arms and I held him as he began to cry. It is a place where we cuddle most mornings and it is a place that feels safe for him. After he had calmed down a bit, we were able to talk about what had happened and he was able to share about the events of the day from his perspective. We were able to talk about how he could have made different choices and we came up with a plan of how he can work on reacting differently, but also how we can potentially incorporate some sensory tools to help him refocus and self-regulate when the situation at school gets to be too much. We talked about the different types of items we could try, how they are used, and came up with a plan for asking the school if they would be on board with trying this technique. By the end of our talk, he was calm, flashing his adorable and goofy smile, and was ready for dinner.

It hasn’t always been like this, and we still have days when all hell breaks loose and there is very little hope of getting the situation back under control, but my husband and I work hard to make it work. Learning how to parent our son in a way that is best for him has been like a rollercoaster ride that never seems to end. It isn’t easy, and we are constantly educating ourselves and adapting who we are as parents to help shape and guide who he is as a person. We gave up the notion long ago of trying to grow our tiny humans into the people we want them to be and have since focused on embracing who each of our sons are and helping them to become the best versions of themselves.

Our youngest son is a complete spitfire. He has his papa’s fiery Latin blood running through his veins and is an incredibly perceptive and sensitive little guy. He is very impulsive, he likes to challenge himself and others, and always seems to be pushing boundaries whenever possible. He is a very complex, witty, and goofy child with an amazing personality and a wonderful zest for life. He has the ability to have you cracking up one minute and wanting to tear your hair out the next. He dances when there is no music, and he hums and sings without ever having an impetus to do so. He has always had two speeds—running and sleeping—and he would much rather walk backwards in a world that is constantly moving forward.

As an adoptee, I know what it’s like to feel stuck and to feel like you are somewhere between and wondering if you will ever truly find a place to belong. My son and I both live in a world that doesn’t quite understand who we are, and it makes me want to work harder to be a safe haven for him and a constant in his life that truly gets him and embraces all of his wonderful and not-so-wonderful quirks and qualities.

My sons have always been my world, and I have always loved them with every fiber of my being. It has taken a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (both figuratively and literally) to get to a place where I can truly say that I understand my youngest son—that I understand what his needs are, the reasoning behind the choices he makes, and how he copes with the reactions of others who may not understand where he is coming from. It is very rarely easy, and there are as many good days as there are bad, but I am very thankful to finally be in a place where I can attempt to see the world through his eyes and parent my son with more compassion, kindness, and understanding. I have come to the realization that my days of having to explain to others who my son is and advocating for his needs are far from over. I will continue to walk this journey with him and do what I can to advocate for and support him in hopes that one day he will be able to live in a world that understands and embraces him as well.

“The Spoon Theory” and Understanding Trauma

I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and as someone with a chronic autoimmune disease, I never thought of The Spoon Theory as anything but a metaphor for what it was like to live with an illness. I have been trying to find ways to better understand the traumatic experiences in my life, the trauma that people I work with have experienced, and what it is like to live with someone who has experienced trauma. I reread this the other day—with the experience of trauma in mind—and I really think this is helpful in gaining a better understanding of what it’s like to live with trauma.

The basic premise of The Spoon Theory is that everyone starts each day with a certain number of spoons. For most people, they are able to get through their morning routines without depleting their supply of spoons. However, for people who live with chronic illness, the weight of traumatic experiences, mental illness, etc., the act of simply getting out of bed and completing each step in their morning routine can feel extremely laborious and can cause the rapid depletion of their supply of spoons. If you have used up half of your spoons before even getting the kids off to school or before you have even made the drive to work, it is a struggle to figure out what you can realistically handle throughout the rest of the day. If you have meetings all day, you may not have the energy to make dinner when you get home. If you happen to have enough spoons to make dinner, you may not have any spoons left to clean up from dinner. You may not have enough spoons to make sure the kids get their baths that evening. Every decision you make and every battle you choose each day can make a monumental difference. The same goes for children who have experienced trauma. The rough mornings weigh on them as much as they weigh on us as parents. They may not have put their dishes in the sink, but they got out of bed and they are on their way to school, and some days, that has to be enough. When they have a day when they are really feeling the effects of the trauma they have experienced, they may not have the energy to verbalize what is going on with them and they may end up acting out, or say hurtful things, and really struggle with regulating themselves and controlling their impulses more so than usual. Every parent has days where they just can’t do it, and that’s okay. It makes us human. It’s important to also understand that kids have those days, too. They need to know that it’s okay to not be okay.

If you have some time, please take a few minutes to read The Spoon Theory with your experiences and your child’s experiences in mind. It may offer you really great and life-changing insight into what you, your child, and your family is going through. And, don’t forget that there are numerous communities of people—online and in-person—who have experienced foster care and adoption who understand and may have extra spoons to offer you—especially on the days when life is overwhelming and you feel like you just can’t do it anymore.

The Walls My Heart Built

The walls my heart built are my protection and my prison.

I learned from a very young age that the people who are supposed to always love you and protect you may end up being the people who leave you and hurt you the most. I learned from a very young age that the people you want to trust—the people you should be able to trust without question—are not always worthy of that trust.

My heart broke for the first time at a very young age. I learned how to mend the broken pieces of my heart together, but it was never to be the same. The innocence that I once knew was gone and my ability to feel secure and love unconditionally as any young child should was overshadowed by my fear of losing more loved ones…my fear of feeling more pain. So, I built a wall around my heart. It was not a strong wall, but it gave my heart a protective barrier—one that could easily be broken down by those I felt secure enough to let in.

My walls have never been fail proof. They allowed some people in who should never have been able to inhabit my heart—even for a moment. They allowed pain and betrayal to seep in—some of which were so harmful that I never thought my heart would ever recover. These walls have also kept me from forming real relationships with people who opened their hearts to me—people with whom I could never allow myself to do the same.

With each heartbreak and betrayal, my walls become stronger and stand taller around my heart. I find myself trusting less and allowing fewer people in. I find myself hiding behind my walls, even with people who love me and people I know I should be able to trust wholeheartedly. As I grow older, I find myself being able to forgive, but never forget. If you have broken my trust, I may let you back in, but never in the same way as before.

The walls I built as protection around my heart have also become my prison. While my heart remains safe, it feels so empty…so alone. I am tired…so tired. I wish I could let people in without question. I wish for the day when I can let my guard down and show people who I truly am without worrying about whether or not I will be liked or accepted. I wish for the day when I no longer feel the need to run away or hide. I wish for the day when I can allow my heart to love fully and live without fear of pain and loss and broken trust and betrayal. I wish for the day when my heart feels whole enough and strong enough to break down the walls I built around it so long ago.

One day, my walls will come down. But, for now, my heart remains protected and imprisoned—waiting for the day when the feelings of security are able to calm the overwhelming fears and the feelings of pain and loss are no more.

But, for now, I wait.

The Importance of Learning with an Open Mind and an Open Heart

When I started working in the adoption world over 8 years ago, I was in a very different place in my life. I was a young wife and mother of a toddler and an infant, and I had never allowed myself to explore what it truly meant to be an adoptee. In my years of working in the field of adoption, I have had the opportunity to do a lot of introspection, to grow my passion for something that I live and breathe, and to grow in my understanding of the complexities of child welfare and adoption. The one thing I have found the most fulfilling has been learning from parents, youth, and young adults who have experienced foster care and/or adoption.

I have seen adoptive families struggle due to the lack of resources and support. I have heard stories of parents who are unable to sleep at night because their child is threatening to kill them and have already caused them great harm. I have heard from parents who share of the heartbreak of learning that their child perpetrated on another child in their family. I have heard stories of parents who have driven all over the state to find help for their child only to be disbelieved or turned away due to the lack of funding and resources. Too many families are struggling, and these issues are seen across the board—especially in foster care and international adoption.

Because I have not been in their shoes, I cannot fully speak to the thoughts, feelings, or struggles of adoptive parents. But, I can say that I have learned a great deal from them, and I feel that what I have learned has truly enriched my work and my understanding of the impact that the adoption journey can have on parents and families. Just as I know it can be difficult to hear adoptee perspectives, it can be equally as difficult to hear from adoptive parents. While I have heard parents say many wonderful things about their children, I have also heard parents talk about wanting to give up. I have heard them talk about not being able to understand their children. I have heard some say that they wish they had never adopted. These are incredibly difficult messages to hear—especially for someone who struggles with issues of loss and abandonment—but they are messages that I feel I NEED to hear.

I realize that it is easy to develop the impression from what I have shared through my blog that parents aren’t doing enough or that they are clueless. While this may absolutely be true for some parents, the fact of the matter is that I have seen parents fight with every fiber of their being for their children, and I have seen the incredible struggles that a number of parents have endured throughout their adoption journeys. I have seen parents who are eager to learn and want so much to understand their children who were not born to them—a number of whom have experienced a great deal of loss and trauma in their lives.

I won’t ever speak for other adoptees who are sharing their voices, as I can only speak for myself. I am not someone who shares her story to blame or shame anyone. I have a great respect for most adoptive parents—mainly because I have seen the impact this journey can have on them as well. When I share my story and the lessons I have learned through working in the adoption world, I do so in an effort to inform, inspire, and encourage parents to grow in their understanding of their children and what their children may experience at some point throughout their adoption journeys.

I was never good at expressing how I felt as a child—mainly due to the respect and love I had for my parents and the overwhelming fear I had of losing them if I said something wrong or misbehaved. This was the way I was wired and the way in which I viewed the world, but it vastly differed from the reality of the life my parents had provided for me. By sharing my journey, I hope to inspire parents to have open conversations with their children and provide their children with the opportunities to safely share their thoughts on being adopted and allow them to grieve their losses and not minimize what they are feeling.

This journey was never meant to be easy, but I want to share that there IS hope. I want to encourage you to celebrate the successes, regardless of how small they may be. I want to encourage you to keep learning and keep your minds and hearts open to the messages being shared—even when it hurts to do so. I want to encourage you to laugh and find joy in this journey—even when it feels like you have lost yourself and any morsel of hope you once had. It is okay to seek support from other parents and to seek help when needed. I urge you to not feel as though you are failing your child. Your willingness to open your mind and your heart to the perspectives of other members of the adoption triad in an effort to gain a better understanding of what your child might be going through may truly make a world of difference for your family.

Losing the Joy in Being “Mom”

I always knew I wanted to be a mom—not because I harbored a need to prove myself to be better than my birth mom or because I needed a tiny human who would always love me. I wanted to be a mom because there was something inside me that yearned to be one. I have always had a love for children, and I wanted to be able to bring a little one into the world to love, care for, and guide—someone who would also teach me and help me grow to become a better person. I have always felt like my life began at two, and that I was never given the opportunity for a true beginning of my life—one that seems to bring so much joy and excitement to so many parents, and one that so many look back on as adults through pictures, baby books, and family memories. I felt in my heart that I would be a good mom—I truly did.

When my sons were younger, being a mom felt so easy and so natural. I delighted in all of the joys and amazement that new life brings and felt so much love and pride for my sweet little guys. I continue to be so in love with my sons and so incredibly proud of them and who they are. However, as the years have passed, I have gradually found myself losing the joy that I once felt for being a mom.

I first noticed the change when my oldest was diagnosed with special needs and learning difficulties. As I took him to appointments and attended teacher meetings and IEP meetings, I started to feel as though I had failed him—I felt like his special needs and learning difficulties were my fault. I didn’t know what I had passed onto him genetically and I started to question my abilities as a parent. Did I read to him enough? Did I really do enough when he was younger to help support his development? Was I really a good mom, or was I just in denial? I seemingly had found myself with a son who I felt like I didn’t know how to parent anymore. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t understand what he was going through and, because I didn’t have the struggles in school that he was having, I felt like I no longer knew how to help him or be the parent I had always hoped to be for him. I saw my dreams for him slowly fade away. While I still absolutely have great hopes for him, and truly feel he will achieve amazing things in life—it saddens me to know that the journey will be one with great struggles—those of which I have no doubt he will overcome.

A number of years ago, I wrote about my struggles with my youngest. I wrote about his rages and the hours I would endure of his kicking, punching, screaming, spitting, and throwing things at me—among other things. I wrote about attempting to get help for him and having him test in the clinical range for aggression and other behavioral issues, and then being told by the so-called “experts” that there was nothing they could do for him and that he would grow out of it. I still think back on that day with great disgust and anger. At that time, I was truly afraid of him and had, on numerous occasions, contemplated calling the police on him during his rages. I remember wondering if these “experts” had ever truly experienced what it felt like to fear their children or the sheer terror of watching your normally very sweet child go from the most loving little guy to someone completely unrecognizable and being pushed to the point where you are literally fearing for your life.

His rages are now very few and far between, but I often wonder if I will ever gain a handle on his behaviors. I often cringe at the thought of having to leave the house, because the simple process of getting ready for anything can have him escalating from zero to two hundred in minutes. I feel like I have tried everything, but it seemingly never changes. There are certainly some days when I, thankfully, don’t feel like I have run a half marathon after getting him ready, but those seem to be few and far between.

I am tired.

I am exhausted.

I feel like I am slowly losing the joy that I once felt for being a mom. I am sick of fighting. I am sick of yelling. I am sick of saying things I shouldn’t say and don’t mean because I no longer have the fight in me to even attempt to filter my comments anymore. I am sick of having horrible mornings and sitting at work absolutely consumed with guilt over what a horrible mom I have been. I am sick of lashing out at the people in my life who love me and try to support me because I don’t feel like I deserve to be loved or supported.

I am sure by now a number of you are thinking I am a horrible person and don’t deserve to be a mom. It’s so easy to judge when you haven’t been through it, and it’s so easy to believe that you would do things differently if you were in the same situation. I know I make mistakes, and there are certainly things that I could have done differently. This certainly was not the life as a mom that I had dreamed and hoped for. I love my kids more than life itself and I would do anything for them. Truly. But, it’s hard to find joy in being a mom when you are constantly being beaten down, told that you suck, that you’re hated, that you are the worst person in the world, that he wishes you were never even born, and then having glimpses of hope that are later dashed. How do you find joy in being a parent when you literally are brought to a place where you look at your child and think, “I love you so much, but I really don’t like you right now.” I know you are supposed to love being a parent and everything that comes with it, but I don’t love being made to feel like a piece of crap every day by someone you do everything for and would give your life for. How do you find joy in that?

I know that many people will think that I am wrong in sharing this struggle so publicly, but I know I am not alone in this. Some parents will never admit to losing their joy, and others talk about it openly and are told they are awful parents as a result. I try really hard to be a good mom to my sons and I work hard to make sure they don’t want for anything. I love my sons. I cuddle with them. I laugh with them. I cry with them. I teach and never stop learning from them. We have grown so much together.

Though some days certainly have driven me to the point of wondering what could have been, I won’t ever regret bringing them into this world. I will continue to fight the fight and I will continue to weather the storms with them. I will fight to hold onto the glimpses of joy, but I will also allow myself to say that parenting really sucks sometimes. I won’t ever be a perfect parent and I will continue to make mistakes and say things I shouldn’t say (though, I will try very hard not to). But, I will never stop loving my sons. I will never stop telling them and showing them that they are loved and that I am so incredibly proud of them. And, even though horrible mornings happen, I won’t ever stop taking the time to cuddle with my sons or talk things through with them at the end of the day or tuck them in every night with a hug and an “I love you.”

Though the joy sometimes slips away, I refuse to lose hope.