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Adoption, Sex, and the Pursuit of Love: Why Adoptive Parents Need to Talk to Their Kids About Sex

As parents, we spend our kids’ entire childhood focusing on loving them, supporting them, meeting their needs, helping to shape their identities, and instilling in them the values and morals we hope they will carry with them throughout their lives. It can be difficult to wrap our minds and our hearts around the fact that our kids are growing with each passing year, and that there may come a time when they won’t need us in the same ways we have grown so accustomed to throughout the years.

Parenthood is not an easy journey by any means, and we often spend a lot of it not really knowing what the heck we are doing! We work diligently to prepare our kids for living their lives in a way that feels right and successful for them, and many of us pride ourselves in doing so. However, there is one important issue that will likely arise for our kids as they grow and mature—an issue that many parents don’t feel comfortable even thinking about in the context of their kids, much less talking about or preparing them for. If you haven’t already guessed it—yes, that issue is sex. Aaaand, yes, I am going there.

Are you ready for this? I, honestly, don’t know that I am either, but here goes.

Sex. It is a completely natural thing, right? Our bodies consist of organs and glands and other complex biological parts and processes—the makeup and mechanics of which I am not going to even pretend to know about—that all make sex possible. It can be a way for us to connect with a partner; it can be a way for some of us to grow our families; and it can help to fulfill a variety of our emotional, psychological, physical, and biological needs. So, why is it so difficult for us to talk about with our kids, and why is it important for parents to have those discussions—especially with kids who have been adopted?

Why is it so difficult to talk about?

While sex is completely natural and something that a number of us have experienced ourselves, historically, it has been something deemed inappropriate to talk openly about. For many, it is an experience that is shared with another person in the privacy of our homes and behind closed doors or other places that can help protect us from exposing our most intimate selves to the world. It is within those experiences that we can open ourselves up to being vulnerable, to connecting emotionally and physically with a partner, and allowing ourselves to feel somewhat free and uninhibited.

For those of us who have experienced it, we all have our own memories of when it first happened, with whom we shared the experience, where it happened, etc. Some of us were ready for it to happen, and some of us were not. For some, the first experience was as positive as a first time can be—for others, it was an experience we wish we could forget. Regardless of how, when, where, or with whom it happened—I think it is safe to say that most of us will agree that our first time had an effect on us and likely changed us in some way.

Many people believe they are ready for sex when it first happens, and many are subsequently surprised to discover how unprepared they actually were. While the physical aspect of a person’s first time is important and may make for some truly memorable moments, more often than not, it will be the emotional aspect of it all that they will carry with them for a long time after the fact and may have a profound impact on their future sexual experiences.

An important part of being a parent is protecting our kids from anything that may cause harm to them or to others. Regardless of whether our first experiences were positive or something we would rather forget, it can be difficult to think of our kids as being ready for something as mature and intimate and life-changing as sex. Sex can be a wonderful experience, but we are all well aware that it can also be extremely harmful—both physically and emotionally. As parents, we want to protect our kids from things like sexually transmitted diseases, early pregnancy, sexual violence and abuse, and the other potential physically harmful or consequential aftermaths of sex. And, we want and need to do our best to help protect them from the emotional and psychological implications of it as well.

As parents, it is overwhelming and a little heart-wrenching to think of our kids as ever being ready for or interested in having sex, but we would be doing ourselves and our kids a great disservice by living in denial about the fact that it will happen someday—whether we are ready for it or not.

Why it is important to talk about sex with your child who has been adopted?

It has taken a long time and a lot of introspection for me to get to this place, but I will fully admit that before I met my husband and became a mom, my understanding of and beliefs about love were extremely distorted and convoluted. When I experienced the trauma of losing my birth mother, my brain responded to that trauma and loss by wiring itself to view the world in a different way. Whereas most infants and toddlers who maintain their connections with their birth mothers feel safe and loved and cherished, my perspective of the world was based on the belief that people who love me will always leave me. With that as the foundation upon which I approached my life and every experience and relationship within it, I subsequently formed an understanding and belief that love always comes at a cost and that I had to give something in order to receive it. I had the choice to either spend my life running from love or fighting for it, and I chose to fight for it.

In other words, I spent my life believing that love was something that I had to be in constant fear of losing.

I have spent a vast majority of my life not knowing my worth and not having the ability within myself to believe in or embrace my value in this world. Knowing that my birth mother made the decision to not keep me in her life—to not have a relationship with me at all—made it really difficult to shape my identity and form a belief about my own worth in a positive or self-loving way. In terms of my physical being, I viewed it as something to hate. As a young girl, I often wondered if my birth mother would have loved me if I had been beautiful. I grew up in the shadow of my gorgeous, tall, and popular sister—who also happened to be adopted—and I spent most of my childhood believing that the kids in school didn’t like me and teased me because I wasn’t pretty enough…because I didn’t look like them. I never learned or believed that my body was something that was worth protecting—it was simply the shell of me that existed only to contain all of the emptiness and broken pieces of who I was inside.

Having attended a private, Catholic school during my formative years, I was pretty sheltered from many realities of the world. The only extent of my sex education consisted of the abstinence-only message I received during grade school. Before high school, I knew nothing about condoms or birth control pills and I knew very little about STDs and teen pregnancy—only that they were bad and they were consequences of having sex before marriage. Attending a public high school certainly changed all of that for me in the sense that I became much more aware of the world around me, but I had also reached that period in my life where I believed myself to be invincible—as many teenagers do—and that everything that happened to other girls would never happen to me.

I started dating a guy from a different school (because I was super cool like that) during my junior year of high school. After years of feeling painfully invisible while watching my friends experience the countless and very dramatic ups and downs of their relationships, it felt amazing to finally have someone in my life who saw me as beautiful and someone worth getting to know on a different level. It was the first time in my life where I felt loved by someone who wasn’t my family, and the euphoria of it all was exciting and a little addicting in a way. We dated for several months before we reached the point of being “ready”. For me, losing my virginity to him became a way of holding onto someone I felt was slipping away. I remember very little about it beyond feeling guilty, empty, and somewhat lost after it happened.

The relationship ended, and I began my battle with severe depression and anxiety shortly thereafter. At the time, I didn’t realize how devastating it would be to experience the loss of that relationship. I didn’t realize how empty I would feel and how much I would miss feeling wanted and seen and loved by someone other than my family. After that relationship ended, I found myself craving those feelings of being needed and wanted and seen and loved. It became almost like a drug to me and I was reckless and stupid and thoughtless in my pursuit to find someone or something to fill the void the loss of that first relationship had created within me. As a result of the choices I made, I became pregnant during my senior year of high school. Due to severe stress, extreme and rapid weight loss, and a number of other factors, it eventually became medically necessary for me to terminate the pregnancy.

I never believed any of it would happen to me—but it did.

As I look back on the period of my life between high school and when I met my husband—knowing what I know now—I truly believe that a number of the choices I made were done so in pursuit of something to fill the void created by the losses I have experienced in my life. I often hear people say that having a biological connection to someone doesn’t matter—but it does. It can mean the world to someone who has never had that type of connection in their life. I love my family more than anything and my parents provided me with a really good life, but I still fantasized as a young girl about life with my birth mother—my birth family. There was a subconscious craving within me for that biological connection to someone…anyone. That need and desire for a biological connection was fulfilled when I gave birth to my oldest son. There are no words that could ever express what it felt like to hold him in my arms and to finally look into the face of someone with whom I shared a resemblance—someone who shared my DNA.

That moment of becoming a mom was profound and life-changing beyond measure. Not only did he fill a void within me—his very existence gave my life purpose and meaning. I always dreamed of becoming a mom, and I remember promising him the world in that moment of first meeting him. He provided me with an opportunity to love someone unconditionally and to feel some of that love in return.

The desire to create a family or a life you feel you never had is a common theme among children, teens, and adults who have experienced foster care or adoption. Young people who have had very little in life to call their own—along with a distorted sense of self worth—may develop a belief that their body is the only thing of value they have to give, rather than seeing it as something worth protecting. This may lead them to search for love and connection anywhere they think they might find it, which can involve potentially risky and reckless behaviors.

Tips for talking with your child or teen about sex

As a mom of tween and teen boys, I am not an expert on talking to kids about sex, nor would I ever claim to be. However, I strongly believe in talking to kids about it and starting at an early age and in age-appropriate ways. Due to some experiences in my own life and what I have learned in my work as a volunteer sexual violence crisis counselor throughout the past 11 years, it has always been important to my husband and me to talk to our kids about sex and relationships. Included on the list below are suggestions and some of the ways in which we have attempted to help prepare our sons for their future relationships:

  • Starting early. We started having the “good touch, bad touch” talk with our oldest son when he was around 3 or 4. At this point, he knew the concept of right vs. wrong and had an awareness of his body to the extent that we could talk with him on a very basic level about which body parts were inappropriate for other people to see or touch, who is allowed to see those body parts, and in what context would it be appropriate for them to do so (i.e., his pediatrician while doing a check-up exam at an appointment—and only when Mama and Papa are in the room, etc.). These discussions usually occurred during bath time.
  • “No” means “no”, and “stop” means “stop”. This is a message we have tried to instill in our sons in various ways throughout the years, starting from when they were very young (around 3 or 4 years old). For example, if we were having a tickling match, the moment someone said “stop”, we would be hands-off—everyone would stop, and we were done. Now that the boys are older (they are now 11 and 14), they do know what sexual violence is and they understand the importance of respecting their partner, their partner’s body, and their partner’s right to say “no” or “stop” at any time and at any point during their relationship.
  • Teaching respect and acceptance. Respect for themselves and for others is something we have always worked to instill in our sons. This has included discussions of the right to say no to things like sex, peer pressure, etc., and the right to make decisions for themselves, regardless of what others may think. We talk regularly about embracing diversity and everything that makes us unique and treating all people with respect and kindness. These discussions include topics of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, etc.
  • Talking openly about love and relationships. Both of the boys have each had their first girlfriends (and, yes, my head did explode when that happened!), and we have used those opportunities to talk about things like what love is and what love isn’t, what it means to love and respect your partner, the ups and downs of relationships, what it means to be in love with someone, what an equal partnership should look like, etc. Because they are at an age where they can easily be embarrassed when talking about girlfriends, we try to do so in a way that is respectful, lighthearted (but not teasing), doesn’t make a big deal out of it, and doesn’t shame or embarrass them for choosing to be in a relationship. My husband and I have also made it a point to show our sons what love and a healthy relationship can look like. We share in responsibilities as a family. My husband and I are affectionate towards each other (in appropriate ways), and we don’t attempt to hide it from the boys. We screw up. We argue. We break down. We get back up. We apologize to each other and to our sons (because parents get it wrong and need to apologize, too). We support each other in our decisions and we back each other up as parents and as partners. We work through our issues together whenever possible, and we try to support each other through all of the ups and downs of life.
  • Talking about sex. The boys have known about sex for a while, through friends at school and from what we have discussed with them at home. We started talking to them about sex a couple of years ago, and we tried to keep the initial discussion pretty lighthearted. (Let’s just say it may or may not have included one of us singing part of the chorus of “2 Become 1” by the Spice Girls.) It has always been important for my husband and me to not stigmatize sex or make it feel shameful to our sons or something they need to hide from us or be embarrassed about. They know it is something that is completely natural and an experience that people who are in love can choose to share with each other. We have talked about the importance of waiting until they and their partners are ready. Both of the boys have expressed interest in girls, but they are well aware of the fact that we will love and support them regardless of who they choose to love. They know about the importance of protecting themselves and their partners when they have sex. We have also discussed pregnancy and the importance of accountability and helping to raise and support their child, should they become fathers before they have found a life partner. I am sure there will be many more discussions about sex, sexual safety, and related issues, but we are thankful to have reached a point with the boys where talking about it feels fairly normal for all of us (something we have been known to do over a plate of spaghetti at dinner). As a general rule, we try to keep things pretty light in our home, because that is what works for our family. It has always been important for us to avoid fear-based, judgmental, or shaming language or tactics when talking about sex with our sons. Rather than focusing the discussions on what we feel is morally right or wrong, we attempt to keep the focus primarily on the physical and emotional safety of our sons and their future partners. Whether we like it or not, the decision of whether or not to have sex and when they feel ready to do so will ultimately be up to our sons and their future partners. It is inevitable and we have always felt that it is our job as their parents not to shame them or judge them or put the fear of God in them with regard to sex—the best thing we can do for them and for their future partners is to prepare them so that they are able to make safe, responsible, respectful, mature, loving, and informed decisions when they each choose to take that step in life.

As a parent, you know your child better than anyone, and what has worked for my family won’t necessarily work for yours. In fact, the purpose of this post was only to encourage you to talk to your kids about sex and, whenever possible, to do so in an open, honest, loving, and nonjudgmental way. I also hoped to share that talking with your kids about sex doesn’t have to be mortifying or embarrassing or cringe-inducing for you or for your kids.

In my opinion, the absolute best example of “The Talk” that I have ever seen was on Friday Night Lights in the season 3 episode titled, “The Giving Tree”. The conversation takes place between Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) and her daughter, Julie (Aimee Teegarden), after Tami learns that her daughter is sexually active. One of the many things I love most about the conversation Tami has with her daughter is that, even though she already knows that her daughter is having sex, she approaches the conversation in an unassuming and non-accusatory way. She doesn’t focus on what she feels is morally right or wrong and she doesn’t shame her daughter for the choices she has made—her primary focus is on the physical and emotional safety of her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend. I also really loved that Tami makes sure her daughter knows that she has the right to say no at any time and that, if the relationship doesn’t work out, she should not feel obligated to have sex with any of her future partners. She also encourages her daughter to be open to talking with her about anything—even something as difficult to talk about as sex. It is so good that I am going to conclude this post with a transcript of the conversation. I hope you will find it as helpful and thought-provoking as I have and be able to draw inspiration from it for conversations with your own children.

TAMI: So, um, do you love Matt?

JULIE: I love Matt.

TAMI: Does he love you?

JULIE: Matt loves me.

TAMI: He does… And, what about birth control?

JULIE: Mom, I don’t want to talk about it.

TAMI: Hun, that’s the conversation.

JULIE: Yes, we’re using birth control.

TAMI: What kind specifically?

JULIE: Condoms…we’re using condoms.

TAMI: Do you know how to use them properly?

JULIE: Yes, I know how to use them.

TAMI: You know you have to use them every time, because you know sometimes boys try to tell you—

JULIE: Yes, Matt’s really good about it.

TAMI: And, you know, just because you’re having sex this one time, doesn’t mean that you have to all the time. And, you know if it ever feels like he’s taking you for granted, or you’re not enjoying it, you can stop anytime… And, if you ever break up with Matt, it’s not like you have to have sex with the next boy necessarily. [Starts to tear up.]

JULIE: Why are you crying?

TAMI: Because I wanted you to wait. But, that’s just because I want to protect you because I love you, and I want to make sure nothing bad ever happens to you. And, I always want you to always be able to talk to me, even if it’s about something so hard like this.

JULIE: I didn’t want to disappoint you.

[Tami shakes head and hugs Julie.]

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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.