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.

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.

My Birth Mother, My Stranger

You were adopted because your birth mother didn’t want you.

I will never forget the day I heard those words. I was in middle school when my social studies teacher decided that he would do a lesson on adoption. Sitting in a room filled with my peers, I remember him starting the lesson by looking straight at me and saying, “You were adopted because your birth mother didn’t want you.” I remember hearing some of my classmates gasp and the room going silent. I remember everyone looking straight at me…nobody really knowing what to do or say. It was probably one of the most humiliating and heartbreaking moments of my life. I don’t remember much else about that day, but I will never forget those words.

When I think about those words, they hurt just as much today as they did over 17 years ago. It was something I had often felt when I was younger, but hearing someone else speak those words to me was absolutely devastating. The difficult part for me was not knowing the truth. I couldn’t tell him that he was wrong, because I didn’t know. And, deep down, I feared that he was right.

My whole life, I have wrestled with the feelings I have towards my birth mother. There are days when I miss her, which feels strange to me, since I don’t feel like I know her at all. Other days, I feel an overwhelming sense of anger and hatred for her. She fed me and held me and cared for me for an entire year (maybe longer). I was hers and I’d like to think that she loved me for a year before deciding that she could no longer parent me. More than anything, being a mom of two, a part of me can’t help but to feel empathy for her, as I cannot imagine what that decision must have been like to make.

During my senior year of high school, I ended up getting pregnant. I was just months away from graduation, and I couldn’t believe that it could ever happen to me. I was overwhelmed, scared, and I didn’t know what to do. I was really sick and I couldn’t keep anything down. I was losing weight like crazy, and I was missing a lot of school. After going over the options with my doctor and my parents—and taking into account how sick I was—I made the extremely difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy. It was a decision that wasn’t made lightly, as it went against my religious and moral beliefs, but it was the right one for me at the time.

When I think about that experience, I find myself feeling sympathetic to what my birth mother must have gone through. I wasn’t strong enough to make the decision she made. She brought me into this world—something I wasn’t able to do for my child. While I don’t regret the decision I made, I know what it’s like to wonder about what might have been. When I think about my birth mother, I wonder if she thinks about me…if she misses me. I wonder if she ever finds herself searching for my face in the crowd.

I know I’ll never meet my birth mother—and I don’t know that I would ever want to—but there are some things I want her to know. I want her to know that I’m okay and I’m living the life I’d like to think she wanted for me. I have an amazing family whom I love so much. They love me and support me and have given me a really good life. I have a wonderful husband and two handsome little guys who are too awesome for words. I am blessed and life is good.

My birth mother missed out on my life and the person I have become, but I am thankful for the decision she made to bring me into this world. Thinking about her will always be somewhat painful and my feelings towards her will continue to fluctuate. She brought me into this world, but I don’t consider her the person who gave me life—my adoptive parents did that. She won’t ever be the person I call “Mom”, but she will always be my birth mother. She will always be a stranger to me, but she will forever be a part of me.

Our Voices Matter

Earlier this year, I decided to create this blog as a way for me to share my thoughts and experiences as an adoptee. Growing up, I always knew I was different, and I knew there were a lot of feelings related to my being adopted that I was unable to name, let alone understand. Working for an adoption organization has really brought a lot of these issues to the surface and has helped me understand myself as an adoptee in a way that no other experience has. I have always been a very introverted and soft-spoken person. When I was younger, I used to bottle all of my feelings and experiences inside, rather than talking about them and dealing with them. My family almost lost me because I refused to talk about the things that hurt, and when I became overwhelmed by it all, I chose to deal with it by attempting to end my life. I have come a long way since that dark period in my life, and my mom can attest to the fact that she can’t shut me up anymore! Through this blog, I have finally found my voice as an adoptee, and it absolutely amazes me that people are actually listening! I kept silent for a really long time, and I am finally realizing that my voice matters.

For the most part, sharing my story and the lessons learned along the way has been a very positive experience. This morning, a post about transracial adoption appeared in my Facebook newsfeed, and it affected me enough to where I felt the need to comment. The post was asking the members of a certain group how they handle situations in which complete strangers ask them about the race of their child and the race of their child’s birth parents. Though not necessarily wrong, many parents were sharing how they wittily answer questions like these and how rude it is to even be asked about their child’s race. This is the comment I posted:

My older sister and I were both adopted from Korea. I can’t tell you how many times my parents (who are both Caucasian) were asked if we were foreign exchange students. My parents would always smile and look straight at us and say, “Nope, they are all ours!” It can actually take a lot of courage to ask a person of color (or the parents of children of color) about their race–especially if the person asking is Caucasian. It is sometimes difficult to not take offense to some of the questions, but as a parent of a transracially adopted child, you need to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone and do what is best for your child, even if it means fielding questions from people who need to be educated about race and adoption. As a mom of two biracial sons, I realize how annoying and intrusive it can be to answer the same questions over and over again. But, I [don’t have knowledge of] my culture and spent half of my teen years trying to pretend I was Caucasian because I didn’t fit in anywhere else. Even as an adult, I have been told that I’m not “Asian enough”. It is painful not being able to find a place to belong amongst people who look like me. I don’t want that for my children. My husband and I have made it a point to raise our children with cultural pride. They know they are Korean and Mexican, and they are proud of who they are. Part of raising our biracial children is answering those questions, even when we don’t want to. I know you mean well, but by not answering those questions you are sending a message to your children that there is something wrong with who they are. Your child’s race should be celebrated, not hidden. I understand the parents who are saying that they would rather not share because it’s their child’s story to tell, but I want you to know that your children are learning how to tell their story through you.

Well, I can say the replies to my comment have been less than positive. One parent even went as far as to accuse me of calling her a racist because she didn’t want to answer the race question. I was adopted at a time when training wasn’t a required part of the adoption process. Adoptive parents weren’t really taught how to raise their children with cultural pride. My parents were given a Korean flag, a Korean cookbook, and a list of Korean culture camps. Considering the lack of resources given to them when they adopted my sister and me, my parents did well in terms of raising my sister and me to be proud of our Korean heritage. My parents would have been absolutely overjoyed to have had a transracial adoptee share his or her story to help give them ideas and tools in parenting my sister and me with cultural pride. I am ashamed to say that the comments affectively silenced me, and I chose to leave the group, rather than deal with parents who weren’t ready to discuss their child’s race in a way that it truly needed to be discussed.

Well-meaning parents of transracially-adopted children sometimes have the belief that because they have read a few books and have befriended a few people who are of the same race as their child, that they fully understand issues of race and what their children are going through. I can honestly say that, until you have walked a mile in your child’s shoes, you will never be able to fully understand what it is like to be a person of color. You don’t know what it’s like to go to bed every night, praying to God for Him to make you blond-haired and blue-eyed like the other kids, so you don’t have to be different anymore. While racially-motivated actions and slurs can be sometimes directed towards a family as a whole, it’s often difficult for white parents of children of color to understand the feelings of wanting to walk a different route to school to avoid the racial taunts and bullying from other children. You will never know the pain of being told that you aren’t “Asian enough” or “Black enough” by people who look just like you. For an adoptee who is constantly searching for a place to belong, being rejected by members of his or her own race can be devastating.

As an adoptive parent, you are sometimes going to hear things that you don’t WANT to hear, but NEED to hear. By refusing to listen, no matter how painful or angering it may be, you are doing a disservice to your child, because you could be learning something that could help you and your child at some point during your adoption journey. Many adoptees choose to remain silent for fear of seeming ungrateful for having been adopted; others have to deal with the “angry” label. It takes a lot of courage for me to put myself out there when writing a blog entry or posting a comment (believe me, I sometimes find myself hyperventilating a little before clicking on the “publish” or “send” button). It’s not easy, but we are sharing our thoughts and experiences in hopes that they will be of help to adoptive parents in raising their adopted children.

Children do not come with instruction guides. Adopted children can sometimes be even more of a mystery due to full disclosure issues. It’s not easy being an adoptive parent, but it’s not easy being an adopted child, either. Opening your heart and your mind to what adoptees and other adoptive parents have to say may not be easy at times, but I can guarantee you that gems of knowledge will fall into your lap when you least expect them to. Be open and be willing to view things differently and try things differently. You may find that stepping outside of your comfort zone can sometimes be the best thing you can do for your child.

Remember that those sharing their stories and experiences are not out to get you. We seek to heal ourselves through sharing our stories, and we seek to educate parents and professionals about what went right in our adoption journeys and what could have been done differently. I may have cowardly chosen to leave that group, but I can assure you that my voice will not be silenced. It took me decades to realize it, but I now know that my voice matters. If I can assure at least one parent that what they are doing is right; if I can help one parent look at adoption in a different way; or if I can put words to feelings that at least one adoptee has been feeling but has never been able to convey, than all of this will be worth it.

An Adoptee’s Perspective: 10 Things Adoptive Parents Should Know

1. Adoption is not possible without loss. Losing one’s birth parents is the most traumatic form of loss a child can experience. That loss will always be a part of me. It will shape who I am and will have an effect on my relationships—especially my relationship with you.

2. 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.

3. Show me—through your words and your actions—that you are willing to weather any storm with me. I have a difficult time trusting people, due to the losses I have experienced in my life. Show me that I can trust you. Keep your word. I need to know that you are a safe person in my life, and that you will be there when I need you and when I don’t need you.

4. I will always worry that you will abandon me, no matter how often you tell me or show me otherwise. The mindset that “people who love me will leave me” has been instilled in me and will forever be a part of me. I may push you away to protect myself from the pain of loss. No matter what I say or do to push you away, I need you to fight like crazy to show me that you aren’t going anywhere and will never give up on me.

5. Even though society says it is PC to be color-blind, I need you to know that race matters. My race will always be a part of me, and society will always see me by the color of my skin (no matter how hard they try to convince me otherwise). I need you to help me learn about my race and culture of origin, because it’s important to me. Members of my race and culture of origin may reject me because I’m not “black enough” or “Asian enough”, but if you help arm me with pride in who I am and the tools to cope, it will be okay. I don’t look like you, but you are my parent and I need you to tell me—through your words and your actions—that it’s okay to be different. I have experienced many losses in my life. Please don’t allow the losses of my race and culture of origin to be among them.

6. I need you to be my advocate. There will be people in our family, our school, our church, our community, our medical clinic, etc. who don’t understand adoption and my special needs. I need you to help educate them about adoption and special needs, and I need to know that you have my back. Ask me questions in front of them to show them that my voice matters.

7. At some point during our adoption journey, I may ask about or want to search for my birth family. You may tell me that being blood related doesn’t matter, but not having that kind of connection to someone has left a void in my life. You will always be my family and you will always be my parent. If I ask about or search for my birth family, it doesn’t mean I love you any less. I need you to know that living my life without knowledge of my birth family has been like working on a puzzle with missing pieces. Knowing about my birth family may help me feel more complete.

8. Please don’t expect me to be grateful for having been adopted. I endured a tremendous loss before becoming a part of your family. I don’t want to live with the message that “you saved me and I should be grateful” hanging over my head. Adoption is about forming forever families—it shouldn’t be about “saving” children.

9. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I may need help in coping with the losses I have experienced and other issues related to adoption. It’s okay and completely normal. If the adoption journey becomes overwhelming for you, it’s important for you to seek help, as well. Join support groups and meet other families who have adopted. This may require you to go out of your comfort zone, but it will be worth it. Make the time and effort to search for and be in the company of parents and children/youth who understand adoption and understand the issues. These opportunities will help normalize and validate what we are going through.

10. Adoption is different for everyone. Please don’t compare me to other adoptees. Rather, listen to their experiences and develop ways in which you can better support me and my needs. Please respect me as an individual and honor my adoption journey as my own. I need you to always keep an open mind and an open heart with regard to adoption. 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.

*****

If you are interested in sharing this blog post and would like an electronic version, please contact me at ckcasale2romo@gmail.com. Thank you so much for reading!!

Do You Want to Go Back?

Do you want to go back?

It’s a question I have been asked numerous times throughout my life. No matter how many times I have heard it, I have to admit that I am always a little taken aback when people ask me that question. In a way, it’s a reminder that, while I am an American citizen, I won’t ever fully belong here. And, because I was born there, I am also a Korean citizen, but I will never belong there, either. I realize people mean well when they ask, but for me, it’s a really difficult question to answer.

When I was found abandoned in a subway station in Seoul, South Korea, I was crying and had bruises around my eyes. The back of my head was abnormally flat, presumably from not having been held enough. I was left without any identifying information, so I was given a birthdate of July 20, 1982, and I was given the name, Soon Duk Kim, which means kindness and virtue. I spent about a year in a foster home in Korea prior to my adoption. I have a photo of my foster mother holding me. I don’t think I will ever forget the gentle face—wrinkled, yet kind and serene—staring back at me from that photograph. It’s the closest thing to a baby photo I will ever have.

When I think about the way in which I was found, and when I feel the back of my head, I have a very difficult time believing that I came from a place of love. I look at my sons, both of whom have perfectly shaped heads, and I think about how I couldn’t hold them enough when they were babies. It saddens me to think about my first year of life. I know a majority of birth parents give their children an opportunity for a better life out of love. However, when I think about my birth parents, I have a hard time believing that they ever loved me. Many adoptees try to imagine what their birth parents must have looked like. Whenever I try to picture what my birth parents looked like, I don’t see faces. In fact, I have never seen anything but shadowy outlines of figures standing over me, but I have never been able to visualize a face.

For many years growing up, I actually feared going back to Korea to visit. My fear was that, if I went back to visit, I would not be allowed to leave the country. I know now that my fears were completely unrealistic, but those fears were very much a part of me for a very long time.

I used to wonder all the time. I used to imagine having another family in Korea. I used to imagine what it would be like to someday meet them and for them to tell me that they were searching for me and they loved me. Now, more than anything, I fear going back and looking at the crowds of people who look just like me and wondering. I don’t want to think that I might have a sibling or a relative living in Korea. I stopped wondering a long time ago because, now, I don’t want to know.

I have found comfort in the belief that there is nothing in Korea for me. I am well aware of the fact that because I don’t have knowledge of my birth name or my birth date, it would be nearly impossible for me to ever find any information about my birth family. I don’t read many stories about adoptees making their homeland journeys. It’s painful to read about the adoptees who found their birth families, and it’s heart-wrenching to read about those who were never able to find any information.

By leaving me without identifying information, I believe my birth parents were sending me a message that they don’t ever want to be found, and I’m okay with that. For me, it’s easier not knowing than feeling the pain of rejection again. It’s a pain that I don’t think I would ever be able to bear.

When my sons are older, I’m sure my family and I will make the homeland journey together. The purpose of the journey won’t be about trying to find my birth family, though. It will be an opportunity for my family to learn about the Korean culture together. For me, that will be a much more valuable experience than trying to find pieces of a puzzle that I was never meant to complete.

An Adoptee’s Perspective: Is Adoption Worth It?

When I started working in the adoption world a little over five years ago, I was an absolute proponent of adoption. I don’t think there would have been anything anyone could have said or done to make me believe that adoption wasn’t anything but wonderful. Working in the adoption world can be difficult at times, especially for an adoptee. If I had a dollar for every time I have heard someone say something negative about adoption or attempt to discourage prospective parents from adopting, my kids’ college fund would be all set. The negative sentiments towards adoption can be difficult to hear sometimes, especially knowing that I wouldn’t be where I am today had my parents not chosen to adopt me. Working in the adoption world has brought a lot of my adoption issues to the surface, and has forced me to address many issues I had kept buried for most of my life. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to work in this field and learn about the good and the bad sides of adoption. It has also helped validate and normalize many of the feelings and experiences I have had throughout my adoption journey.

I believe in adoption. I believe that every child deserves a loving forever family. But, I am also well aware that adoption is not easy or perfect. Mistakes are made, and children and families sometimes pay the ultimate price for those mistakes. Working in the adoption world, I hear the stories—good and bad—and I see a system that works for some and has failed miserably for others. I also see children who age out of foster care or live their entire young lives in orphanages, and I am well aware of the statistics on the difficulties they will most likely face.

As much as I believe in adoption, I know that adoption isn’t for everyone. You need to be extremely dedicated, open-minded, always open to learning, and incredibly thick-skinned to be an adoptive parent. Adoption isn’t easy. It’s not a lifetime spent on cloud nine, nor is it always a dream fulfilled for people wanting to add to their families. Regardless of whether they were adopted domestically, internationally, or from foster care—all adoptees come with issues. No matter how old they were when adopted, it’s unrealistic to believe that it is possible for a child to experience the loss of one’s birth parent and come out on the other side completely unscathed.

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. It will sometimes feel like a rollercoaster ride that never ends. It is also a journey in which you may need to learn when to love and when to let go.

I have heard some parents say that they don’t know whether or not they would adopt if they could go back and do it all over again. But, a majority of adoptive parents have whole-heartedly said that despite the tears, the sleepless nights, and the sacrifices they have had to make throughout their adoption journeys—they still believe that it was absolutely worth it. 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.

My story as an adoptee hasn’t been picture perfect. I didn’t talk to my parents very much about being adopted or all of the teasing and bullying I endured growing up. I think it was my way of protecting them. As a teenager, I acted out and did things I am not proud of and put myself and my parents through hell and back. I went through a phase of not really caring about anything, much less myself. In doing so, I thoroughly tested my parents’ love and support for me. But, no matter what I put them through and no matter how much I pushed them away, my parents were always there. Looking back at that period in my life, I am so thankful that I had a place to call home and for parents who were there to pick me up when I hit rock bottom.

Even though adoption isn’t perfect and it’s not always a fairytale, as an adoptee, I can unequivocally say that adoption is worth it. I don’t know what I would do without my parents’ love and support. My parents and I talk pretty much every day. Some days I don’t feel like talking, and other days I am off in another world, but I always look forward to those daily phone calls. I find comfort in knowing that I can just pick up the phone when I’m having a rough day and know that I will always have someone to talk to. I am blessed to have a family to celebrate holidays and birthdays with. Without adoption, none of this would have been possible, and I would not be the person I am today.

Parenting the “Other” Race Child

As a parent, your world revolves around your children. As much as it’s the greatest job in the world, it’s also one of the most difficult.

Parents make many decisions on a daily basis that affect their children. Recently, a couple from Canada revealed their child’s gender after concealing it for five years. They raised him in a gender-neutral environment with hopes that in doing so, it would allow him to develop his own personality and be who he wants to be, regardless of societal expectations. They revealed their son’s gender because they felt it would be too difficult to conceal now that he is starting school.

Some of the decisions we make for our children have the potential to be life-changing, so we make our decisions carefully and with their best interests in mind, and hope for the best. My family lives in a large and very diverse city. My sons are Mexican and Korean. They are too young to fully understand what it means to be biracial, but my husband and I are doing our best to ensure that our sons know who they are and where they came from.

A few years ago, we found a great elementary school for our oldest son, and we were so excited for him to start this new chapter in his life. I completed the enrollment application and met with a staff person at the student placement center. She took my son and me to a room where we introduced ourselves and she looked over our application. She told me everything looked good, but I needed to change my answer to the race question, where I had checked the Asian/Pacific Islander and Hispanic boxes. She slid the application across the table towards me, and proceeded to nonchalantly tell me that I was allowed to only check one race for my son. I told her that he was an equal percentage of both races, and asked her how I was expected to choose one for him. She then proceeded to tell me, “If you don’t choose one, I’ll make the decision for you.” I must have had a completely panicked—or absolutely livid—look on my face, because she told me I could take some time to decide, and then took my son to a different room for school readiness testing.

I remember sitting at the tiny round table with the tiny human chairs—my mind racing about a mile a minute. My husband and I had spent 5 years raising a proud, biracial son, and with one flick of my pen, I was expected to change my son’s racial identity in the eyes of the school system. In doing so, it felt like I was telling my son that half of his identity didn’t matter. Not wanting to allow a complete stranger to make such an important decision for my son, I checked the “Asian” box. My oldest son looks very Asian, and my youngest son looks more Latino. So, I decided that I would check the box for each of my sons that corresponded with their outer appearances. When my youngest son started school, I checked the “Hispanic” box for him.

It’s incredibly difficult being a parent of biracial children and raising them to be proud of their uniqueness, when society refuses to acknowledge who they are as a whole. Because they don’t fit neatly into that box, they will always have to choose one, or check “Other”, when answering the race question. I worry about the implications of this, as they grow and shape their own understandings of their racial identity. Sadly, my sons know more about their Mexican culture than they ever will of their Korean culture.

Being biracial will also most likely affect the interactions my sons have with other Asians. We live in an area that is heavily populated with single-race Asian families. When we are out in public, which is fairly often, my family endures angry stares and whispers from other Asians. I am a disgrace—an outcast—to the Asian community because I married outside of my race. I don’t know my language or culture of origin, which further drives the wedge between my family and the Asian community. We have experienced some of this with the Latino community, but they have been a lot more accepting of our biracial family.

Right now, my sons are completely oblivious to the stares and the whispers, but I know there will come a time when they will begin to realize what is happening. We won’t always be able to protect them from any potential backlash, but we will work hard to arm them with the tools to cope with being different in the eyes of people who look just like them.

Race does matter. My sons have a right to be proud of both of their races, but society and their school system tell them otherwise. The very institution that teaches my sons about race, culture, and diversity is the same institution that tells my biracial sons that they are only allowed to honor one of their races. Imagine a hospital telling a new mother of twins that she can only choose one to bring home with her. Imagine that hospital worker telling her that if she can’t decide, the decision will be made for her. I realize this is an extreme example, but the feeling of heartbreak you feel when imagining such a situation is the very feeling a parent of a biracial child feels when they are told their child is only allowed to identify as one race. It’s hurtful and potentially very damaging, and it needs to change.

We, as a society, have come a long way in terms of racial and cultural competence, but we have so much more to learn.