Words She Never Said

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Blogger Series: Katrina Ivatts ~ Musings of an Adoptive Parent

This year, I will be featuring guest bloggers who will share their thoughts and experiences on a variety of adoption-related topics. This blog is my baby, so one can only imagine how nerve-wracking it was to make the decision to feature the voices of others who have been touched by adoption! When I received the first draft of Katrina’s blog post, she immediately put my mind and heart at ease through her beautiful words and captivating story. As I read the final lines of her draft, I knew I had to open this guest blogger series with her story.

It is an absolute honor and pleasure to introduce Katrina Ivatts, adoptive mother of a beautiful son from Korea, as Diary of a Not-So-Angry Asian Adoptee’s first guest blogger! Enjoy!

~ Christina

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“Musings of an Adoptive Parent”

As a child, I always dreamed of being a mother. Unlike many people whose adoption journey begins with their inability to conceive a child in the conventional sense, my story follows a slightly different path. I was born with a complex congenital heart defect. In my mid-twenties, I came to a difficult crossroad—to have a revision of a childhood open heart surgery, which would enable me to have my own biological child, or to adopt. For me, it was a no-brainer—I would adopt. My dreams of becoming a mother have come to fruition, but in a very different manner than I ever dreamed possible, with the adoption of an 8-month-old boy, Jungbin, from South Korea in 2008.

There are moments in our adoption journey that I will never forget, such as the day I received the phone call from the adoption agency letting us know that we had been matched with a baby and his pictures and file would be available the following day. Upon the acceptance of our referral, we waited for what seemed like a forever before receiving the phone call to fly to Seoul. The 15-hour flight to Seoul was arduous, and time seemed to tick at an especially slow pace. Questions loomed in my head about whether or not I would make a good parent. We had seemingly jumped through so many hoops with home studies, vast amounts of paperwork, and tight deadlines, but we were finally going to meet our son.

The morning after our arrival in Seoul, I would meet our little boy whose Korean name means “righteous” and “bright.” Upon our arrival at his foster mother’s home, she came down to greet us. We followed her to her apartment where she proceeded to take off her jacket, unveiling our son, who had been riding in a cloth sling on her back. Once on the floor, he crawled straight to me and put his hand on my face, stroking it, as if he had been waiting for me, and was trying to get to know me. At this moment, I knew in my heart that I wanted to preserve his connection to Korea by using his Korean name as his middle name, so he thus became Miles Jungbin. One week later, we finally had our little boy bundled in our arms, ready to fly to the East Coast. We had magically transformed into a family of three.

Building our family through adoption has filled our lives with great joy. As we adopted transracially and transculturally, we have enjoyed learning about our Miles’ country of origin. As Miles has grown, we have enjoyed learning about the Korean culture together and sharing this experience with him. He is the light of our life and, like other parents, we have enjoyed hearing him speak his first words and take his first steps. We have enjoyed watching him develop and shape his identity through traits and qualities he was born with as well as those of which we have instilled in him.

As with any adoption story, the overwhelming joy Miles has brought to our lives inevitably comes with great loss. As a woman, I have often wondered how it might have felt to have a child grow in my womb and to feel his first kick. Baby showers for friends have always been difficult for me—most of which I choose not to attend. Likewise, friends telling me every graphic detail of their pregnancies and birth stories leave me feeling uncomfortable and are a constant reminder that I will never fully belong.

As a mother, it can be difficult to appropriately respond to people who ask you how you can possibly love a child who was adopted as you would a child who was born to you. I have found that you need to be strong enough to be honest and forthright with your child when they come to you with questions regarding their birthparents, yet sensitive enough to appropriately respond when your child asks heartbreaking questions like, “Why did my mom and dad in Korea not want me?” or “Why couldn’t I stay in Korea?” When you hear questions such as these pass your child’s lips, you know they are dealing with feelings of loss.

I often reflect back on the experience of having to write a letter to Miles’ birth mother before receiving an adoption referral, which would eventually be sent to her through the adoption agency. How I wish that I could re-write that letter! If I were given the opportunity to write a letter to Miles’ birth mother now, it would be much more heartfelt, as I now know her child. I would love to let Miles’ birth mother know that he is happy and thriving. I often think of the agonizing decision she made in choosing adoption for her child, and how we benefitted from this extreme sacrifice. I am sure she thinks of him, as he often thinks of her. Birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees all stay connected if only in one’s heart.

Miles often says he would like to meet his birth mother someday, and I have told him that this would be a nearly impossible task, due to the limited amount of information we have about her. In a perfect world, I would also love the opportunity to get to know her—to see beyond the 10-page dossier we received from the adoption agency. I would love the opportunity to let her know how grateful I am to her for giving us the gift of Miles.

The adoption of our son has been a real journey. I anticipate every milestone in Miles’ life to be met with a mixture of joy and sadness. I am filled with gratitude towards my son’s birth mother and father, the adoption agency, foster mother, and to God for helping us build our family.

Ivatts Family

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Katrina is a grants analyst, children’s book aficionado, and adoptive mother.  She enjoys taking long walks,  watching foreign films, visiting museums, and creating mixed media art canvases.

Call for Guest Bloggers!

I am currently looking for guest bloggers with adoption/foster/kinship stories (open to all members of the triad and kinship caregivers) who would like to be featured on my blog. Contributors need not be experienced bloggers–just people touched by adoption who would like their voices and experiences heard! You can remain as anonymous as you’d like, but you will receive full credit for whatever you choose to contribute for consideration. Please note that all blog posts will be subject to review and I reserve the right to accept and reject offers to contribute.

I am working on a new blog post that I hope to finish soon! So, have no fear, I absolutely will continue to write and share my thoughts and experiences with all of you! Blogging has been extremely cathartic for me and has given me a voice that I never thought would ever matter to anyone. I want to offer those touched by adoption an opportunity to share their experiences and thoughts on adoption-related topics as well, and hope this guest blogger series will prove to be a valuable and informative resource for everyone.

If you are interested in being a guest blogger, please contact me at ckcasale2romo@gmail.com!

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.

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.