Everyone seems to have their own opinions about healing.
And I find it so incredibly harmful and frustrating when someone attempts to project their experiences with and beliefs about healing onto others because they have healed and have moved on from their traumas and expect others to do so as well.
Here’s the thing about healing.
Healing is so incredibly personal and unique to each person, and we have no business telling another person how they should heal or dictate a timeframe in which they should do so.
As adoptees, we all may have experienced trauma, loss, and adoption—but we have all experienced these at different times and in our own ways.
If you have done your healing and you are in a wonderful place, I am truly and genuinely thrilled for you.
I wish that for everyone who is healing from their hurts with every fiber of my being.
If you are just beginning your healing journey or are working towards a place of healing—I stand with you, I support you, and I honor and respect where you are in your healing journey.
I am not a mental health professional, nor have I received the training to qualify as someone who can advise anyone on their mental health or their healing.
I have lived experience as an adoptee and have worked in child welfare and adoption for over 15 years. I am also a survivor and volunteered as a sexual violence crisis advocate for over a decade. I am a mental health warrior.
And I share only about my experiences and my truths—both personal and professional—and what I have learned along the way.
I fully support and advocate for the amplification and centering of adoptee voices.
And I always will.
However, I believe that I also have a responsibility to provide support and advocate in responsible ways.
That means speaking on what I know and what I know to be the truth. It means speaking my truth in ways that are authentic and true to my experience. It means not providing support or advice that I am not trained nor qualified to give.
Please continue to share about your joys and successes so we can celebrate you and celebrate with you.
Share your voice so we can support and amplify your truths and your lived experiences.
But, please do not share about your accomplishments or your healing in ways that belittle others and insinuate that others should be further along in their healing process.
If you truly want to support adoptees, then you need to support us in our need to heal in our own time and in our own ways.
Though I am in my late 30’s, I didn’t start exploring what it means to be an adoptee until 8 years ago. It has been less than 8 years since I reached a place of being able to acknowledge and begin the process of working through my trauma experiences. There is a whole lot of healing that I still need to do—and I am nowhere near where I need or want to be in that regard.
And nobody has the right to dictate to me how that healing should happen or how long it should take.
Healing is a lifelong process.
Healing is not linear and does not project in a forward motion at all times simply because we want it to.
There will be setbacks. There will be days when we take one step forward and two steps back.
Healing is not pretty. It can be an ugly and extremely painful process. We lash out at others. We push others away. We hold others too close.
We immerse ourselves fully in our traumas because they have been the one constant in our lives that have been so full of loss.
Some days we fight our battles loudly. Some days we fight just to exist.
There will be moments in which the wounds we thought had already healed are torn open by new traumas or something that has triggered past traumas.
Rather than judging others for the ways they choose or are not able to heal, we need to provide them with the grace and support they need and deserve.
Because that is their battle, their truth, and their healing journey—not ours.
And, no, I am not saying that we need to save anyone or that anyone needs to be saved. That is not who I am or what I have ever been about.
However, I am saying that we need to acknowledge and respect where we are in the healing process and walk alongside each other—not push each other to be where we think each of us should be.
We are not going to heal the way you want us to. Healing doesn’t work that way. We are going to heal in the ways we need to. And we are exactly where we need to be.
I was recently invited to be on a show called America’s NEXT Motivator—created and hosted by fellow advocate, Cedric Riley. My first recorded interview! Cedric was an absolutely wonderful host, and I truly appreciated and enjoyed our conversation!
Included below is a transcript and the audio from our interview. Please click on the image caption below to access the audio from the interview. FYI—My internet was not cooperating that day, so please excuse the connection issues and how nervous I was!
AMERICA’S NEXT MOTIVATOR: Welcome home! Where we provide information, inspiration, and motivator after motivator after motivator here on Americas Next. I have Christina Romo here with me today. How are you doing, Christina?
CHRISTINA ROMO (a.k.a. DIARY OF A NOT-SO-ANGRY ASIAN ADOPTEE): I’m good! How are you?
ANM: I’m doing quite well! I want to say hello to everybody who are—who are—who is tuning in right now and who’s going to tune in in the future. I just wanna say thank you for the community that we’re building, and I want to welcome you. How’s everything going with you, Christina?
CR: It’s going well! I mean, I’m just working from home so, you know, like everyone else—just surviving, and—you know. [laughs]
ANM: So you’ve—you’ve been on the computer quite a lot lately, right?
CR: Yes…Yes. [laughs]
ANM: How did—how did the virtual age impact the work that you do?
CR: Um, I mean, for the work that I’m doing now, I’m able to do everything just online and electronically and by phone, so it—it’s not impacted it too much. Um, I actually went from doing a job where I was, like, completely out in the field and just, you know, meeting with young people—during the pandemic—and then, um—and then switched to an at-home job kind of during that as well. So, I’ve not actually, like, met many of my coworkers in person yet, so it’s been interesting, but, um yeah, I’m just thankful to have a job and to be able to do what I’m doing, so…
ANM: Absolutely. Christina, where are you from?
CR: Um, so I was born in South Korea, and—and was adopted from there, um, they say I was 2, I—I may have been as old as three. And, um, I was adopted by—transracially—by a family in Minnesota. Grew up in a kind of—a predominantly white area and, um, city and—I have an older sister who was adopted as well and my younger brother who is my—or who is my parents’ son my birth.
ANM: Mm-hmm. That already sounds like an incredible journey that you’ve been on. Um, you—you—you came from miles and miles and miles away and created a whole life here in America. And based on the conversation that we’ve already had so far, you grew up to have a positive impact on the lives of other young people who are in the system. And so I just—I look at that as very very positive, you know, coming from South Korea to America and growing up to impact the lives of children and families here in America is no small deal. It’s no small deal at all. Now, what was your life like growing up with your siblings?
CR: Um, you know, I—I was very—I was fortunate in that I, you know—I lived a pretty privileged life and, um, you know, didn’t want for anything or anything like that. And—and, you know, I—I was adopted at time where the message was very much, you know, “Just take, you know, take your child home, love your child, and that will be enough.” And—and so I—I think my—my parents did as well as they could with the information that was out there—there was not nearly as much information back then as there is now. And so, I think—I think I was probably more impacted by my just being an adoptee and being, like, a handful of children of color in the school that I went to growing up and in my community. And so, I was also just super awkward and just, like, really shy so it kind of—I think it made for a pretty easy target, I think, you know in terms of kids who kind of didn’t know better. Um, so it was—it was definitely a challenge, you know, growing up, and—and I adjusted well in some ways and then others I just struggled a lot, like, emotionally and just with kind of the losses and just being different and not fitting in and everything. So yeah, so it was—it was interesting, but, you know, I was very close with my family then and very close to my family now, and—and, so I—yeah.
ANM: Right. When you talk about how you—you felt like you were the other, you felt like you were different than your peers, different parts of your life—I think that’s a part of your story that so many people can relate to. People who might have been adopted or might not—people who just lived—lived a different life can still relate to the concept of feeling like they’re the other person. They’re somebody who didn’t necessarily grow up there from generation to generation and, you know, now that you gotta deal with the adversity of not being a part of the “in” crowd, at least at first. So when did you—when did you really start to realize that you were potentially the other in the environments that you were in?
CR: I mean, I think I always felt it. Um, my—again, it was—it was just kind of the times. Like, my family—we didn’t really talk about things like race and adoption, although my sister and I always knew that we were adopted. Um, but I mean certainly going to a school, um—we went to a private Catholic school, so kind of everyone knew everyone’s business and we grew up with, like, the same people for, like, 9 whole years. And—and so I—I think it was—it was definitely, um—you definitely feel different and you’re maybe treated a little bit differently being somebody who doesn’t look like everyone else. And—and I also was just a really sensitive kid, so I think—I think that just kind of added to—just the challenges there. And then when I went to high school, I actually went from, um, going to, like, a private Catholic school for nine years of my life to going to—to going to a public high school. Um, a very large public high school—I think my graduating class was 800 kids or something, so that was huge shock. But still, it was, there—there were only a handful of, you know, students of color there. And so I—I think, you know, when I was a teen, I really, um, kind of got to this place of—some of it out of, you know, just—out of necessity and just wanting to just survive it all…just kind of rejecting my Asian identity. And more so just—I guess feeling and acting white, you know, growing up. And I remember my school had, like, these multicultural clubs and things like that, and they would always slip things in my locker and I would just, like, tear them up right away. ‘Cuz, um, I didn’t want to be the different person, so—and I also grew up in a town that’s—it was, um, it definitely was…I-I-I’ll just say it. I mean people were pretty racist there and pretty, like, close-minded, and—and there was actually a group that was at the high school and they were called, like, All American Boys, and they were kind of a modern day, like, neo-Nazi/KKK Group and burned crosses on people’s lawns and stuff like that. So, it was—so part of that, like, needing to just blend in and rejecting my—my Asian identity was also just out of needing to survive it and not stand out.
ANM: Right. Wow, ladies and gentlemen. Not—not to—not to be funny, but you guys ever been watching the news or a broadcast, and when you get into serious subject matter the news anchor always has to take a moment and straighten his papers up? So I just grabbed some papers and I’m gonna straighten them up—I’m gonna straight my papers up. So, you know, when we talk about racism quite often we think about the usual parties. We think about White people and we think about Black people, and—I appreciate your transparency today, and I appreciate your honesty, and the perspective of what you also went through. And so, we know that your whole story wasn’t full of adversity, but there was an adversity, and that is—that one of those big adversities was that you felt the need to reject your own identity. And, not only can I personally relate to that, I believe that thousands and thousands of young people across the country can identify with the period in their lives where they wanted to reject their identity. And—and so I want to make this into a victorious moment for people out there. We got 440,000 youth in the foster care system right now in America—most of them, I venture to say, are going to deal with rejecting their own identity at one point or another. What were your—what were your conversations like with your parents or friends or a higher council about identity rejection, if any?
CR: I mean, honestly, I—I didn’t really talk to anybody about it. It’s—you know, for me, like—it’s kind of hard to talk to somebody about a struggle that they were not experiencing themselves, and I think also just as an adoptee, like, part of me just wanted to protect my parents from, like, what I was experiencing. And so—so I didn’t really make it a thing. I just internalized all of it and just—and you know—and that itself kind of, like, backfired because I—you know—I struggled with a lot of, you know, mental health issues and so I—I think…Yeah, I didn’t really have a place to just process it and didn’t really feel like it was okay to do that. And it—that was kind of my own self-imposed belief. It wasn’t ever something that was told to me.
ANM: I think—I think it’s also natural, you know? And this is deep to me because I—I experienced that same series of emotions—that same process of you’re going through something usually at school or in the community. But you want it—you want to protect your relationships. You don’t—you don’t want to put a bad taste in your parents’ mouth. You don’t want to start the pot—which you deemed to be unnecessarily and so you hold on to things. And—and those things began to sort of build up on the inside and it leads—it leads to anxiety. It leads to, uh, angst and it boils down to coping skills, you know? Did you develop any positive coping skills to deal with this situation?
CR: Um, I think—I think my outlet really became just writing. Um, I’ve always been a lot better about just writing my feelings and my thoughts than actually, like, talking about them. And so that was always just, like, an outlet for me. When I was younger I would write poetry and—and you know, it—it just kind of—I never had a journal really, but I would just take out a piece of paper and just write something down. And—and so I think that just kind of brings me to where I am now and really doing a lot of writing to not only process my own journey but really help—help parents, you know, better understand what their—what their children might be going through, and how to better support them. And also really, kind of, naming things and putting things out there that, you know, other—other adopted people might be feeling and experiencing as well. And so I think—I think what really helped me get to a point of being able to embrace my identity and be proud of it was—was really when I went off to college and started a family. And, I—it was a really interesting situation in college ‘cuz I went to college where—in an area that was pretty diverse, and I did that purposefully. And, you know, that school had different—different groups for your race and culture. And—and I really didn’t—I was more rejected by Asian people because I didn’t—I didn’t know my language of origin, I didn’t have any connections to it, I didn’t know my culture. And—and so you kind of experience these situations where you’re treated like you’re not Asian enough, so yeah—
ANM: Wow. Hold on. Let’s—let’s expand this for a second. When you say—when you say that you—that you pretty much felt trapped between—between ethnicities, you know, that means that you were—you were in a gap where you could have, I mean—you could have failed in that gap. You could have—you could have had such an emotional problem that we could—we could possibly not be seeing you work the way that you work today and do the things that you do today. Because some people never come back from being in that gap. Like, if I’m not accepted over here, okay, I’ll try it over here. But if I’m not accepted anywhere, then I have to deal with the unnatural reality that nobody wants me. And for some people that’s too much, but what I’m hearing from you is that you were strong—you were strong. You internalized things and you—you transmuted that energy into something positive. Now, Cordell Davis, is here also, and he asks, “What was the coping mechanism that you used when you felt alone?” And you mentioned writing a couple minutes ago, so I wanted to expand on that a little bit. Can we use writing in a more creative way to assist in the child welfare space? Talk about it.
CR: I—I, you know, definitely think so. I mean it’s—it’s what I’ve been doing for the past, I think it’s been like eight or nine years, and really just—it’s been my way of being able to advocate for reform and advocate for adopted people. And, you know, people who have experienced that loss of their families—their first families—loss of their identity. And—and I think through writing I’ve been able to not only—you know, it’s been a very cathartic process in which I’ve been able to, you know, process kind of my own journey and what it has meant to me, you know, to be an adoptee. But I’ve also been able to kind of harness that and use it to help educate other—other parents and kind of help give their kids a voice until they are able to verbalize, you know, where they—where they are. And—and kind of make it—hopefully help parents create, like, a safe space for their kids to be able to kind of have those conversations. And—and for parents to be able to be better positioned to support their kids in ways that, you know, a lot of—a lot of adoptees that are my age and older, like, we didn’t necessarily have that because the information wasn’t out there, and the resources weren’t out there, and—
ANM: Right. That’s right. This is outstanding. Let’s zoom in on this part of the conversation right here, because I would like to co-champion this with you. I also believe that writing is a huge, huge, huge potential ally for foster care, adoption…Also, my mom is here in the building. When we talk about writing—I was also adopted—my mother and I began to exchange letters. And when we—when we couldn’t verbalize what we wanted to say, we would write letters to one another. So not only am I championing—championing this with you, because I believe it’s a good idea, but that also took place in my life. The element of writing can enhance child welfare for several reasons. You are acknowledging that maybe you can’t put it into words at first, maybe you can’t verbalize it, maybe you don’t—you don’t have the courage to just be outspoken about what you’re going through. But there’s something that is just quieter about writing, and my take on it is this—in order to write the hallway of your perspective the hallway of your personality, it has to be cleared a little bit in order for you to write clear thoughts and in order for all stocks to add up to something that makes sense. So in order for you to write, you have to do some of the mental and emotional work of clearing the space. Now, when you go—when you sit down with the counselor and they’re like, “I want to help you get to a new place in your life. Let’s work on, you know, clearing your mental space.” That sounds abstract. It sounds complicated. But if I hand you a piece of paper and ask you to express yourself—guess what the first day, you might not be able to do it. Because you’re intrinsically doing that work. You’re moving things around in your head. You’re moving things around in your heart without people asking you to. By the time you get to writing letters back and forth, you’ll be a whole new person. And I think that’s where writing can assist in the relationship-building process and child welfare so I totally agree with you.
CR: Well, and I—I think there’s a misnomer out there, too, that—that in order to share your story, you need to do it verbally. And one thing that was taught to me by—by people who had experienced foster care was—was really, you know, you—there are so many different ways to share your story. And it’s really about focusing on what your strengths are and using that to share in the way that feels best and most comfortable for you. Like, I’ve—I’ve known young people who have shared their—their stories through dance, through music, through artwork—and it’s so powerful. I mean, everyone—everyone has their own way that works for them, and so—so acknowledging and really embracing that, I think, is really a huge thing and really important for our young people to be able to have a place to kind of process, and get their story out, and work towards healing as well.
ANM: Isn’t it beautiful when people begin to tell their stories? And I’m not just talking about the children. I’m talking about the parents, community members…When people begin to tell their stories, the world becomes a better place. The world becomes a more transparent place. It becomes a more understandable place when we start to tell our stories. And so that’s pretty much what we’re doing here on this show is—we’re telling our stories. Now, can you talk to us about some of the—some of the positive memories that you have of growing up? What—what’s one thing that—that really sticks out to you growing up that was really fun, or creative, or positive that you did with your family?
CR: Yeah, we—we did a fair amount of traveling and, you know, took some great trips, you know, to different states and different kind of sites. And so those were always really memorable and enjoyable experiences. And—and I think we were very traditional in many ways. And—and even just the act of just being able to just—sitting down and, you know, having a meal together, and then just checking in about each other’s days, and—and things like that. I think all of that was just very meaningful and memorable for me, and—and definitely things that I’ve—I’ve tried to carry over into my family now, you know, with—as parents, and you know, with my kids and everything, so—
ANM: Sure. If you could talk about one trip today, what would it be? What happened, and what did it look like?
CR: You know, I think it—I was actually reminded of it, you know, not too long ago. Just—there was a situation and some relatives and—we all kind of got together and…you know, we had all gathered for a family reunion in Colorado. And it was just—and all of us were there, and we just—there were a lot of videos and just fun moments. And, like, my—my dad’s family is Italian, and so just very expressive and just very—very, very fun and so—so that’s always a memorable trip that we had and something that I’ve carried with me for sure.
ANM: I’ve heard that Colorado has some of the most beautiful skylines, some of the most beautiful mountains, and just nature reserves in America. Did you see any of that?
CR: Yeah, yeah absolutely. Well, my—my sister, she used to actually live in Colorado, too. So—so we were kind of closer to the Colorado Springs area for that reunion, and then my sister—she lived kind of closer to Denver. So, being able to kind of experience the two different parts of Colorado was great, too, so…but, yeah, it’s absolutely beautiful there. The only thing is just—adjusting to the elevation. [laughs]
ANM: Right. Oh! What was that like? The elevation—now, they say the higher you go, the harder it is to breathe. Is that correct?
CR: Yeah, yeah it is. And I—I think it just affects other people differently, and yeah, it’s definitely a different experience. I think you acclimated—acclimate to it pretty quickly, but it does take a minute. [laughs]
ANM: Ok, alright ladies and gentlemen. We’ve got—we’ve got also to look forward to traveling around the United States of America. We have some very beautiful places here in America, and I know when we think about traveling, we often think about going out of the country. But, there are some very beautiful places here in America. Colorado is one of the places that I’ve heard is just absolutely breathtaking, depending on the time of year that you go and what you go to see. There are some great concerts that happened in Colorado, and just a lot of life culture happens in a place like Colorado. And the reason why I’m expanding on that is because, for me growing up in Cleveland, Ohio—we never really talked about Colorado much. But as I got older and I began to go to different places—I’ve come to hear that it’s a great place to go. Everybody, be encouraged to explore the United States, you know? Have you been to other places in the United States that you thought were worth mentioning today?
CR: I—I have. My…actually, my—my first job out of college, I did a fair amount of traveling, and so—so it kind of took me all over the place. And I would say, like, one of my favorite places to go was—was actually not in the U.S…It was Canada. Like, loved Canada. I went to Ottawa and Toronto there, and—and both were just beautiful. And—and I can’t really put my finger on a place in the U.S. that really stuck out to me, but I’ve been very fortunate to be able to experience different places.
ANM: Okay. And, um…You—you’ve got a guitar in your background. Who plays that guitar right there?
CR: Um, so my—my husband and my youngest son play guitar. Yeah, we’re a pretty—pretty musical family. So, yeah, they’re…I—I do not know how to do anything on the guitar, besides play, like, “Hot Cross Buns” or something. [laughs]
ANM: Right something very simple—very very simple. Ladies and gentlemen, we are having a conversation with Christina Romo about her journey, and I’m enjoying it. I love the parallels, I love the contrast—and it’s all a big discussion. So, we’ll be right back after this brief message. Sit tight.
ANM: And we’re back! Christina, how you feeling out there?
CR: I’m good! How are you?
ANM: I’m doing great—I’m doing great! So, now, what—what school did you go to?
CR: Um, for grade school or for high school?
ANM: For college
CR: Oh, sorry! [laughs] I went to Hamline University.
ANM: What would you say—what would you say was the biggest thing that you took away from college?
CR: You know, I—I did not have your typical college experience. I actually—I met my husband there, and—and we ended up…ended up getting pregnant, and we ended up getting married. And that was, like, the beginning of my—my second year of college. So I—I spent most of my time in college, you know, being a mom and adjusting to being a wife and—and all of that. So it was a very different experience. I do feel very—very fortunate in that I had a lot of supports and particularly—particularly from the school. I went to school full time and I also worked part time at the school, and so there were definitely days where my—my husband I, we—we tried to stagger schedules, so each of us could be at home with our—with our son. And there were definitely days where I needed to bring my son to school with me and bring my son to work with me, and I was—I was always very supported in doing so. And so, yeah, it was—it was a very, very different experience. And—and looking back, my husband I—we sometimes kind of wonder how we did it. [laughs]
ANM: I’m over here—over here thinking that, you know, as the story goes on, I’m—I’m seeing more and more clearly that you’re actually a warrior. That, you—you know, throughout the course of your life, you—you dug deep. And the challenges that you faced are not unlike everybody else in America, and so when you say—when you say that you had your child in college, I’m thinking, “How did you get through it?” Because for a lot of us, when we have children in college, it’s like—hey, sometimes people never make it back to school, you know? And it becomes—it becomes a circumstance where you’re like, “How do I—how do I get through this situation?” So let’s make this an opportunity for a case study on how you made it through college with a baby. What did you do, specifically?
CR: I think I—I was very—very, very fortunate to have, you know, a lot of support from my professors, and from my—my boss at work, and from my family…definitely my family. And—and I—I will say that, when I had my—my oldest son, like, that was the first time that I had met someone that I was biologically related to, and so it was a very—
ANM: Hold up—hold up! When you had your son, that was the first time that you met someone you were biologically related to?
CR: Correct. Yes.
ANM: See? This is why I said that you were a warrior. And what I mean by warrior is that you’re somebody who’s been through a lot, and while you might not look like what you’ve been through, you were probably at least 18 years old—I mean, how old were you when your son was born?
CR: Um, I was—I had just turned 20.
ANM: Yes, 20—20 years old before you could say, “I have a biological family member here with me.” You know, that’s an incredible—that’s an incredible journey right there. And, continue—continue with the story. Go ahead.
ANM: [Laughs] Right. Yeah. So, for all—for all the people out there, you know—what I’m hearing is that you’re definitely going to lose sleep. Which is—that’s just a part of it. You’re going to lose sleep, but also and, before you—before you get into fight or flight mode and potentially choose flight mode, have a conversation with your professors. Have a conversation with your parents, and have a conversation with your job. Because as Christina pointed out, that relationship with her employer, her professors, and her parents were all supportive. So make sure, if you can, that you see what support you can get from those aspects of your life—if you happen to have a child while you’re in college. And, of course, you will never sleep again. How can I say this—you took your last nap, but you’ll get—you’ll get through it, you know? And, what was—what did you major in?
CR: So, yeah, I think it was just a very life-changing experience to be able to, like, look into the face of someone who looks like you, and that you share DNA with. And—and I think, you know, in that moment, I just wanted to be better, and I wanted to be the kind of mom that my—that my first mother wasn’t able to be for me. And so it was—it was…so part of it was just my own determination and part of it was, you know, just wanting—wanting something different for—for my family. And—and so I—I think it was just…yeah, I—I to this day, I don’t know how we did it. I don’t know how I ever got sleep or anything, but— [laughs]
CR: Um, so I majored in—I double-majored in Sociology and Criminal Justice.
ANM: Okay. Now, when you—when you had a child, did that—did that make you reflect more on the bond between parents and children? And did you connect that to child welfare?
CR: Um, you—you definitely have a different—a different appreciation for, like, what your parents did for you. And also, I—I don’t remember my—my birth mother. And so the, you know, kind of—what I know of that situation, I—I think I’ve definitely had a lot of things to grapple with, but it definitely also helped me to look at the situation from a different place, and just—just kind of knowing how difficult of a situation it must have been for her. And—and so just kind of having a different perspective on that—that helped me as well. And, to be honest, with child welfare—I didn’t intend to go into child welfare when I went to college and when I chose my major. I just kind of landed in it, kind of serendipitously, I guess. But, yeah, I certainly think that, you know, being a parent has kind of changed the way that I’ve—or has impacted the way that I’ve approached my work, for sure.
ANM: Absolutely. You know, when you have children—by the way, I have children as well, ladies and gentlemen, and today is my daughter’s birthday, so—
CR: Aw, happy birthday—
ANM: Happy daughter, happy daughter day, and happy birthday to my daughter. You might hear her in the background. She’s overwhelmed with enthusiasm because she’s been getting gifts and phone calls all day. But I’m—I’m raising awareness about the substance of love between a parent and a child that you come to know when you have a child and be reminded that that substance is something that everybody deserves to know. Everybody deserves to know the substance of love. And when it comes to youth in the foster care system or adoption, that substance can come by way of an unconditional commitment and unconditional relationship where you invest your all into this child or this child invests their all into you. So that you guys can have a bond, you know? It’s the bond that produces the substance of love. And so, when I—when I had children, it was like—I gotta see if I can have a positive impact on youth who are in the foster care system even more, you know? Because look at—look at how I’m loving on my child. Look at—look at how I’m being careful about the way that they are treated, and the things that I give them to eat. Just look at how I’m examining my child’s day…and consider that youth in the foster system might not be getting that same examination. People might not be examining their day. People might not be examining their diet. People might not be scrutinizing the way that they are treated. And so we have an opportunity to go out and contribute to that—contribute to some of the substance of love that everybody deserves to feel. What are your thoughts on that?
CR: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I think—I think all parents, like, they, you know—I think there are definitely parents who lack the resources and the support that they need to be able to provide for their kids in the way that they need. And I think, a majority of the time, I think that is why kids end up in foster care. And I—I think it’s really, like, I—I was fortunate to have the resources that I needed. And I—I think there was definitely some innate aspect to it for sure, but—but I mean, I—I knew how to be the mom that I am to my kids because I was surrounded by, you know, having good parents. And I was surrounded by, you know, things that taught me what—what I wanted to incorporate in my kids’ lives, and what I wanted to maybe do differently. And—and so I also was able to kind of learn that from my work in child welfare as well, you know? How to—how to be more patient and more mindful parent to my kids, and—and to be a lot more understanding of—kind of the challenges that they’re experiencing as well. And—and so yeah, I—I definitely agree with that. I think we—we kind of take our experiences and we—and they impact us in some way, for sure.
ANM: Absolutely. Sure. Um, would you like to—would you like to say something to your adoptive mom today? Just pass on some positive words to her?
CR: Um, yeah! I think—I don’t know if she’s watching, but yeah. [laughs] I’m just…I—I am the mom that I am because my mom was a good mom to me. And, you know, even though there were definitely times when I kind of put them through the wringer and wasn’t the easiest kid and everything, like, they—they stuck it all—stuck it out with me and they’ve weather—weathered all the storms with me. And—and I would not be where I am today without the support that they’ve given me, so—
ANM: That is huge. It’s huge—it’s huge in the way that—everything that goes around, comes around. Because, you know, you can now reflect on the life that people came and helped you to build. And now you’re pouring all of that into your child, and that’s a miracle depending on how you look at it, you know? Now, how did you—how did you land upon the—the work of child welfare?
CR: Yeah, so I actually…I—I’ve been working in child welfare and adoption kind of off-and-on for about 15 years. And it started as an internship that I chose to extend in college and—as a Guardian ad Litem. And then—and then when I graduated college, I took a little bit of time off to be a mom when I had my second son, and then worked in retail for a little bit. And then just applied to some jobs, and—and then an adoption organization called back and I went through the process. And I was there for 11 years, and then—and they focused primarily on advocacy, education, and support…post-adoption support, and really also making sure that young people who have experienced foster care had their voices heard and were able to kind of increase their capacity for leadership and advocacy. And then after that, I think I just learned so much from—especially from the young people that I worked with there and I really wanted to use that to—to try to do more front end work as a social worker, and—and really wanted to try to approach things differently and to take what I learned from them and incorporate that into my work. And so I worked for a year-and-a-half as a Permanency Specialist. And so I had, like, a split caseload where I worked with older youth who were in care and trying to find permanency for them, and also working with families who were interested in adopting as well. And I think I—I really appreciated that experience, for sure, but it also is very, very hard to have lived experience and work in that field. I think—I think too, like I—I think part of that was me wanting to help reform adoption from the inside out. But I—I think just kind of—that experience also kind of just really showed me and highlighted just how broken the system is. And there can’t just be a handful of people, you know, trying to advocate for this reform—trying to make these changes. And then I just kind of got to the point where I just needed a break, I think, from adoption, as I was just living and breathing it. And—and so I went on to work for a year with young people who were experiencing homelessness and housing instability. And there I really focused on family preservation, so wanting to make sure—I created a program there that was really focused on trying to provide and connect families—young families who were at risk of child welfare involvement, with the resources that they needed to help them, you know, stay together and get on their feet, and—and avoid child welfare involvement. And then I just started kind of feeling the pull and just missing working in adoption and—you know, it was just my comfort zone—so I landed where I am now. And just working more on the post-adopt side of things and trying to connect families with services and supports as soon as possible after finalization.
ANM: Okay. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what a champion looks like. This is what a people’s advocate—a people’s person looks like right here—Christina Romo. If you listen closely, you hear that, day in and day out over the span of more than 10 years—that she was on the front lines and the back end helping out a system that impacted her life. You know, every—every so many years, there must be a resurgence of young people who grew up in the system who come back to—to do work in that system. I want to acknowledge all the people who have been in the foster care system, the adoptive system, the child welfare space as a child—and they came back to have a positive impact on agencies, young people, and families. I think that it should go commended every day. Let’s commend that every day. Let’s commend that, and we’re commending that today with you, Christina. It’s no small gesture and you definitely are a valuable member of that community. Now, what would you say—what would you say were the biggest or the best victories that you—that you saw in connecting with young people? Can you talk to us about how to connect with young people? What were some of the successes that you had that you could pass on to us today when it comes to connecting with young people in care?
CR: Um, you know, I think—I think just honoring and, you know, and respecting who they are and really…When—when I was in that role, in the front end line role, one thing that I tried to do for young people that—I was just starting out on their case, like I—I created a little flyer that had my picture on it and just a little spiel about, you know, who I was and I…Because I did not feel okay with kind of being someone who, you know, meeting them for the first time, like, I knew what they looked like and I knew, like, all of this information about them, and they knew nothing about me. And so I—I did that and would pass it on to their—to their County worker to share with them, and so that was a way to kind of just level the playing field a little bit. I think just little things like that—I think added to that experience of bringing dignity back to their experience, and, I mean, I think also just meeting young people where they were at. I mean, I—I certainly would encounter workers who—I would have an initial meeting with them and one of the questions that I would ask them was, like, “What are some things that you like about this kid?” You know? And there were some workers who couldn’t say a single thing, and that would be so frustrating, because it’s like every—every young person has something that’s likeable about them, and it’s on the adults to be able to figure that out, and to connect with them in a way that that can come out, and that it feels safe for that to come out. And so I think just approaching things differently and just kind of focusing on, like, what works for them and kind of changing the way that you communicate with them or the way that you’re connecting with them and everything just based on what works for them. Because so much of adoption—and I think that’s why I refer to myself as more of an adoptee advocate than an adoption advocate, because so much of adoption is just a series of decisions that are made for a child by adults in their life that profoundly impact the trajectory of their lives. So I—I think…so I—I very much focus heavily on what’s best for the young person and approach the work in that way as well.
ANM: So for those people who might not have heard you clearly—you did cut out just a little bit. I want to—I want to reiterate that she says that she’s an adoptee advocate because the adoption is more or less a series of documents. It’s—it’s paperwork, you know? It’s a series of formalities, but the adoptee is going to—is going to have to learn so much of what it’s going to take to grow up and be a successful, productive human being in the world. That’s why she considers herself to be an adoptee advocate, and I think that—that also is very thoughtful of you. Now, you mentioned a few minutes ago—several minutes ago that you could see from your years in child welfare that the system was broken. And, you know, I don’t—I don’t say that to come off, like, “Oh, he’s saying that the system is broken.” In fact, I love it when other people say that, “I see the system is broken”, because now I wanna know. What do you mean when you say that you could see that the system was broken?
CR: Yeah, I—I think, like, in Minnesota, I mean, the—the system is County-based, so there’s oversight by the State, but each County kind of has their own way of approaching the different—they have their own way of approaching adoption and permanency. And so just I—I think because the—because adoption historically has been so focused on kind of the needs of the parents, as opposed to the needs of the young people, and—and also just naming the fact that there is such a disparity in the young people who are in foster care. Um, they are predominantly, you know, children color and, you know, and also children who identify as LGBTQ. And just I—I mean, I remember there were days when I would go through case files for a young person and just think, you know, this…this kid should be with their family—with their family of origin. And a lot of times that happened with kids of color, because they—they are removed from their families at a disproportionate rate, so I think that’s a very big way in which the system is broken. And I think there are definitely workers who are just not adoption-competent—they’re not aware of, kind of, the complexities. You know, I—I…working with older youth who were in need of permanency, I think so much of…I—I really appreciated with my work that there—that it was focused on permanency, not just adoption. We saw adoption as an option, but it wasn’t the only option. So, like, with my caseload—I think there were only two—two young people who found permanency with—with a family that they—that they didn’t know previously, and the rest were connected—either reconnected with their family of origin, they were connected with relatives or with community members that were already known to them. But also—I remember a conversation with the worker…you know, there was a young person who was about to age out of care, and—and I was still trying to find permanency for them. And they were like, “Well, they’re turning 18. Why do they need—why do they need to be adopted?” And, you know, it just having that conversation with them, like, “When you were 18, like, were you able to be on your own?” “Do you—could you afford, you know, the things that you needed to, you know, survive?” “Could you—when you were sick, like, did you call your parents?” And, you know, all of that matters. And so even just having those conversations with workers who just didn’t get it—and a lot of that is on the system that doesn’t kind of teach that to them.
ANM: You know, I heard—I heard a lot of leadership in your comments just now. And, I could have interjected a full minute ago, but you were still talking about things that—that were valuable. So many things that you just said were helpful just now. I want to go back to something that you said a few minutes ago, which is that people are dealing with the adults, but they’re not dealing as much with the children. And I think that—that sentence right there, that comment right there is possibly why the system is broken. Because I’m dealing with a ch—I’m dealing with the parent, but I’m not dealing with the child. And the fact is, neither me nor you really knows this child, and so you deal with so much of, uh, backfire. Or you deal with so much breakdown down the line, whether it be a failed placement, a failed adoption, or a loss of a life, because we don’t actually understand the children. And so let’s raise awareness about that today—hashtag “understand the children”. What we’ve got to do in order to rectify a system of dealing with families is understanding the children. It’s almost like we’re having conversations with one another and we’re telling the kids, “Don’t listen to me. Go over there.” And as time goes on, we can’t assume that children know anything, because guess what? We never took the time to examine them. We never took the time to hear from them, to learn from them, to learn THEM. And we’ve got to pay 100% more attention to that. Also when you said that there were people out there who didn’t understand why 18-year-olds needed a family—why they needed to be adopted, I think that—that’s also absolutely huge. We’ve got at least 50 to 100,000 young adults who are in the child welfare system who are waiting to be adopted. They’re still waiting to feel the substance of love. They’re still waiting to feel the examination of somebody who cares. They’re still waiting to feel KNOWN. We’ve got to create systems of knowing our young people. We’ve got to create events, rites of passage, organizations, resources, culture—we need to create a culture of learning our children. And not just in foster care—in the world. Do we know our children? If we know our children, then we’ll know our future, and see if we don’t know our children, then guess what? The future is uncertain. So I take out of what you’re saying, Christina, that we need to create a whole new market, a whole new industry, a whole new science—whole new space where we’re getting to know children. I’ve got a few questions for you as we round third base here. I’ve truly, thoroughly enjoyed this conversation. And, uh, what is greatness to you? What’s greatness to you?
CR: I think—I kind of jotted down some notes…I think, you know, we all have greatness within us and I think it’s—but I think it’s up to us to, like, harness that greatness and use it for something that gives our lives meaning and purpose. Um, I think there is greatness in all of our journeys—like, there’s greatness in the tears, there’s great—there’s greatness in, you know, picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off, and trying again the next day. And I think it’s really about, you know, knowing who you are, knowing your worth, and sharing your talents and your gifts with the world. And, so I think that’s greatness.
ANM: Absolutely. Christina, I want to let you know I’ve listened to your story today. I’ve heard your journey. Ladies and gentlemen, put your crown emojis into the chat, because we’re giving you your respect today, while you can still receive it. We’re also giving you your crown, while you can still receive it. And while you’re here with us—those are some crowns for you down there at the bottom of the screen. And we are letting the world know, letting you know—that you, Christina Romo, are America’s Next Motivator!
CR: Thank you! [laughs]
ANM: You’re welcome. Thanks for stopping by today, alright?
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.
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.
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.
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.