An Adoptee Unsilenced

I have worked in the child welfare and adoption field for well over a decade—starting out as a volunteer Guardian ad Litem, and as an adoption professional working with parents and young adults who have experienced foster care and adoption. I also have my own journey as an adoptee to add to that experience. I would never say that I have seen it all, but I have certainly seen and heard a number of different adoption-related stories and perspectives throughout my life.

One thing I have often seen and experienced that I have found increasingly upsetting is the double standard that exists within the adoption conversation—especially between parents and people who were adopted. Time and time again, I have seen people contributing to the adoption narrative who are given a free pass to say really awful and insensitive things about adoption and adoptees because they “didn’t mean any harm”. And, while others defend their ignorance and lack of understanding, adoptees are shamed for speaking out and our feelings about the issues are minimized and disregarded.

Adoptees are constantly subjected to attempts to minimize or explain away our thoughts and feelings surrounding our adoption journeys and the way we—and adoption in general—are portrayed. We have a right to feel the way we do about our experiences. We have a right to acknowledge and mourn the losses in our lives. We have a right to share what is on our minds and in our hearts without being subjected to a barrage of comments about how we need to be more positive, more tolerant, more understanding, or more grateful.

I realize the messages that are shared are not always easy to hear. It is difficult to learn that you might be doing something wrong, and it can be downright disconcerting and defeating at times. I get it. I truly do. And I can tell you that as an adoptee, a mom, and an adoption professional—I often feel disheartened and defeated, too.

I understand that it’s difficult to not take it personally. But, it’s important to know that adoptees’ feelings about adoption are often very complex, and that isn’t necessarily about you or who you are as a parent. It is often about our need to process it all and find a way to shape our identities and fill the void caused by the unknowns and missing pieces in our lives.

We are fighting so desperately to be heard, to have our feelings about our experiences acknowledged and validated—to feel like, if we say it loud enough and often enough, that what we have to share might actually make a difference and might begin to change the narrative that too often only allows for positive perspectives on adoption.

Please stop trying to silence us.

Please stop trying to explain away our pain.

Please stop making excuses for people who don’t understand the issues and need to be educated and willing to have the conversations that are necessary to reach a place of understanding.

Please understand that the entire trajectory of our lives has been shaped by decisions that have been made by other people. As adults, the last thing we want or need is to deal with people who attempt to control and censor our thoughts and feelings about our lives and issues that affect us because what we have to say doesn’t align with their beliefs or because it is uncomfortable to hear.

Those of us who have been doing this for a while have heard a lot and have learned a great deal throughout the years. We know what people who share insensitive comments are trying to say and we know that, for the most part, they truly “don’t mean any harm”. But, the fact of the matter is that we are humans with feelings and we can be hurt—we have been hurt very deeply by our circumstances in life. We call attention to the things that upset us because we are trying to educate others on the complexity of adoption. We are trying to improve the narrative and the language surrounding adoption, not only for ourselves, but also for future generations of adoptees.

I am a pretty open-minded person, and those who have followed my blog throughout the years would probably agree that, for the most part, I am pretty patient, understanding, and supportive of adoptive parents. Attempting to gain a better understanding of adoptive parents and their experiences has truly helped enrich the work I do and has also helped me to embrace different aspects of my own adoption journey in unique ways. However, understanding where adoptive parents are coming from and being tolerant of inappropriate and harmful views that, frankly, do not belong in the adoption narrative—are two very different things.

Please stop asking us to be tolerant of things that hurt us. Just as parents use a variety of experiences as teaching moments for our children, adoptees need to be allowed the space to share our teaching moments with parents as well.

I speak only for myself when I say this, but when I choose to share my thoughts on an issue or an aspect of my adoption journey, I do not share with malicious intent. I share my thoughts and experiences in an effort to educate parents, to help them better understand what their children may be going through, and to help others who were adopted feel a little less alone. I attempt to share the messages in ways that might be a little easier to digest, but sometimes there truly is no good or respectful way to say that something really sucks.

I am not someone who is particularly judgmental of people who view adoption differently than I do. If you want to accompany your social media posts with hashtags like “#AdoptionRocks” or share about how happy you are to be an adoptee or to have been able to adopt—go right ahead and do so. But, I ask that you do so in a respectful manner and be aware of and open to the complexity of adoption and the fact that, while “#AdoptionRocks” for you—adoption may be extremely rocky and traumatic for others.

It takes a lot of strength and courage to share our experiences and perspectives on adoption. There are times when, after writing a post or reading and responding to comments, where I find myself so emotionally exhausted that I don’t know if I want to cry my eyes out or curl up into a ball and sleep for days. I have been called every name under the sun and have been told that I should kill myself on a number of occasions. But, I continue to push myself to do this because it matters—because I truly believe that our voices are helping to create an adoption narrative that is more inclusive and accepting of the complexity of the feelings and experiences of all members of the adoption constellation.

Please stop trying to censor us.

Please open yourself to listening to and considering our diverse perspectives—especially when the messages are difficult to hear.

All parents know that children don’t come with instruction manuals, but if you open your hearts and your minds to really hearing what adoptees have to say—you might find that you have come across a wealth of information even more valuable than any instruction manual could ever provide.

Please hear us.

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An Adoptee’s Perspective: 10 Things Your Child Needs to Know

10. You have a right to feel the way you do about your adoption journey.

Adoption is complicated and messy and wonderful and heartbreaking. Life may feel wonderful to you now or it may feel confusing and awful. Know that your feelings about being adopted are valid and will likely change throughout your life—and that is completely normal and okay. There is no right or wrong way to feel about adoption, and there is no right or wrong way to navigate your adoption journey. You have a right to explore what it means to be adopted in your own time and in your own way. Your experience is your own and you are the only one who knows what is truly in your heart.

9. Know that you may see and feel the world differently due to the traumatic losses you have experienced in your life.

Many adoptees are also mental health warriors and brave their battles valiantly every day. Know that you are not alone in this and it is okay to ask for help if you reach a point where you no longer feel as though you can brave your battles alone. You don’t have to do this alone—we don’t want you to go through this alone. Your life has value and your light is so very needed in this world.

8. You have a right to fight until you feel safe.

Regardless of the age at which you joined your adoptive family, you may find that forming a connection with them is extremely difficult. Whether you joined your family who adopted you as a baby, as a teenager, or even as an adult—the fact of the matter is that you were biologically connected to your birthmother for nine months before you came into this world. You heard her voice and you felt her heartbeat from inside her womb and you have her blood running through your veins. That matters. The connection you formed with your birthmother matters. And, that can make it difficult to form a connection with the family who adopted you. You may have endured traumatic experiences in your life beyond the loss of your birth family and your culture and community of origin. While you are not what happened to you, those experiences can very much affect the way you view and form relationships with others. You may need to fight against forming connections or receiving love from your family until you can truly believe in your heart and in your gut that you are safe and that nothing you can do or say will be enough to push your adoptive family away from you or make them love you any less. It won’t be easy for anyone involved, but you need and deserve to know that you are worth fighting for and that there are people in your life who will fight to stay just as hard as you fight to push them away.

7. Your sense of identity is your own.

Adoption is the result of a series of decisions that have been made for a child. As an adoptee, you may feel as though there are many things in your life that are out of your control. You may have had your name changed, you may not know your true date of birth, or you may have been raised in a racial and cultural community that differs greatly from your race and culture of origin. All of these decisions that are made for you can profoundly impact your sense of identity and the world’s perception of you. As you mature and grow in your understanding of yourself and your adoption journey, you may begin to see yourself differently and reject or embrace parts of who you are. There is no right or wrong way to form your identity as you navigate your adoption journey. And, the way you currently identify and see yourself may completely change in a few years. The process of forming your identity may include exploring your past and seeking connections to your family and culture of origin. You have a right to seek out the missing pieces of the puzzle, and you have a right to search for a connection to the people and things that may fill a void in your life and help you feel whole again.

6. You should never have to choose between loving the family who brought you into this world and the family who adopted you and chose to raise you.

There is room in your heart to love both. You can feel blessed to have a family to celebrate milestones and holidays and birthdays with and to have your needs met while mourning the loss of your birth family and the connections to your heritage and your past. Loving your family of origin and yearning for a connection to your past doesn’t have to mean that you love the family who adopted you any less. It is okay to miss your birth family and wonder about what might have been. They will always be a part of you. You have a right to wholly embrace the many aspects and people that contribute to who you are.

5. There is beauty and heartbreak in being perceived as different.

It is not easy being different and living and going to school in a place where nobody looks like you and nobody seems to understand what you are going through. The questions about who your “real” parents are and why you can’t be with them, the endless taunting and bullying, the assignments you can’t complete due to the countless unknowns in your life—all are incredibly heartbreaking reminders of the losses you have experienced and how different you truly feel. Being different can be lonely and terrifying, but it can also be inspiring and beautiful. We are all unique in our own ways and life often deals us cards that we aren’t prepared to play. But, it is in those moments of adversity where we discover our strength and resiliency—where we fight to hold onto the things and people in our lives that bring us joy and foster hope. It is in those moments where we are presented with opportunities to educate others and create awareness about the issues that we face as a result of our experiences in life. It is in those moments where we get to decide how we react to difficult situations—where we must gather the strength and courage within ourselves to find light in the darkness and fight to rise above the adversity—where we can choose to combat hatred with kindness, compassion, and love.

4. Allow yourself to let go of the guilt that you feel.

As adoptees, we tend to blame ourselves for the things that have happened in our lives that were out of our control. We ask ourselves questions like:

“If I hadn’t cried as much, would they have kept me?”

“If I had helped more or if I hadn’t made them so angry, would they have taken me away?”

“If I had been better or if I had tried harder, would they have stayed?”

We feel guilty for not feeling happy about being adopted and for not being able to be the children we believe our adoptive parents want us to be. We hear stories from other adoptees who have experienced trauma and abuse in their adoptive families and we feel guilty for not having had those experiences as well. We feel guilty for missing and loving our birthmothers and we feel guilty for the hatred and anger we feel towards them. We feel guilty for loving our adoptive parents and we feel guilty for not being able to love and connect with them in the ways they wish we could. We feel guilty for the constant anger and sadness we feel. We feel guilty for how lost and alone we feel. It is important to remember that we are not what happened to us. We had no control over the choices that were made that led to our relinquishments and subsequent adoptions. Adoption is so incredibly complex and there is no right or wrong way to feel about being adopted. We have a right to not feel okay about what has happened in our lives. But, we also need to do what we can to not allow ourselves to get stuck there. We need to allow ourselves the time and space to heal. We need to attempt to forgive others and ourselves in order to heal and work towards finding some semblance of peace in our lives.

3. You are worthy of love, and you are worthy of being loved exactly as you are.

There have been experiences in your life that may have caused you to feel like you are not good enough and are not deserving of love, but you are. You should not have to compromise who you are to prove to others that you are worth loving. Love is something that should be given without expectation of anything in return, and you deserve to have that kind of love in your life. You should never feel like you have to buy love or friendship or a sense of belonging with things like gifts, money, your body, good grades, perfection, loss of identity, or anything else that may compromise who you are and who you believe yourself to be. You are worthy of love without condition or expectation. You are worthy of being loved for who you are—beautiful and messy and wonderful imperfections and all.

2. You matter to this world.

It can be difficult to understand why people in your life chose to make the decisions that led to your being adopted. Some of those decisions may cause you to feel as though your value in this world is less than others whose birth parents chose to raise them. I want you to know and to hear me when I say that your life, your voice, and your story all have value in this world. Regardless of how you came to be adopted, I want you to know that you matter and you have the capacity to do amazing things in your life. Never forget that this world needs your light.

1. You are not alone.

Being an adoptee can be beautiful and lonely and wonderful and devastating. It can be difficult living in a world of people who breathe the same air as you, but will never understand what you have gone through and why you feel the way you do about it. That sense of belonging can feel so fleeting at times—it is something you may never fully be able to experience. It is never easy to feel misunderstood. It is never easy to feel lost in a world that you are encouraged to embrace but never fully feels like your own. It is never easy to hear that you were given “a chance at a better life” when all you want is to experience the life from which you were torn away—a life you may never have had the chance to know. Please know that you are not alone. There are entire communities of adoptees who have had similar experiences and know exactly what you are going through and truly understand how you feel. Reach out to the people in your life who love and care about you. Talk to them about the things that hurt, and talk to them about the things that bring you joy. Too many adoptees have lost their lives with too many words in their hearts that they felt were unspeakable. While the words you need to say about what you are feeling may be hurtful to your loved ones—the pain will heal with time. However, the pain of losing you would create a deep and devastating wound that your loved ones would carry with them forever.

Please know that you are so very loved.

You are seen.

You are wanted.

You are irreplaceable.

You are never, ever alone.

It will get better, and there is always hope.

I Am Depression, Hear My Cry

I am depression, hear my cry.

I am the voice inside that tells you how worthless you are and how you will never amount to anything.

I am the reflection in the mirror that tells you how fat and ugly you are and that nobody will ever love you.

I am the knife that tears at your heart from the inside, leaving wounds that may never heal and scars that hide the innocence you once knew.

I am the war that constantly rages inside you—never allowing you peace and always forcing you to imagine the worst in every situation—in every person you meet.

I am the part of you that pushes away the people who love and care about you because you are not worthy of love—you are not worthy of someone who cares.

I am the piece of your soul that forces you to stop caring—to stop caring about everyone and everything that once brought you joy.

I am the words that you are dying to say—but nobody wants to hear.

I am the cries that nobody believes—the cries that are ignored and stifled by people who tell you to just be happy and to get over it and to stop being so dramatic.

I am the reason why everyone disappears—because nobody wants to be around someone who is always so sad and angry.

I am the reason why people stop asking how you’re doing—because they know before you even say a word, and because they don’t want to know.

I am the eyes that were once so full of life—the eyes that can no longer hide how hopeless and lifeless and empty you feel inside.

I am the blade that pierces your skin and the poison that ravages your body when you reach that moment of utter darkness and despair—that moment when you would give anything just to feel something again.

I am all that is left after you are gone.

I am the reason why they say you were selfish for leaving them all alone.

I am the reason why they blame you for not trying—for not fighting harder.

I am the secret they say you never shared.

I am the cries for help they say they never heard.

I am the reason why you’re gone.

I am depression.

Nobody heard my cry.

I am a person who struggles with mental illness—a person who is asking for help to find joy in life again.

I am a person who carries the burden of living on her shoulders every day and views life as a messenger of an insurmountable amount of loss, grief, and pain.

I am a person who tries to live and love with a heart that has been broken into a million pieces.

I am a person who feels she has become a burden to the people she has leaned on for support.

I am a person whose eyes people refuse to meet—because she is known as the thief of people’s joy.

I am a person who knows the pain of wanting to die every day that she lives.

I am a person who fights a never-ending battle with herself—a person who struggles just to get through each day.

I am a person who is drowning and struggling to stay above water—a person who needs help.

I am a person who is screaming for someone to listen and pleading for someone to believe that she really is hurting even more than she lets anyone know.

I am a person who is willing to fight, but knows that she can’t do it alone.

I am a person who is pleading with you to not turn away—to not ignore her pain because it’s too hard or because it makes you feel uncomfortable.

I am a person who has so much to live for, but needs someone to help her see—someone to remind her of the beauty in living.

I am a person who needs to be reminded that there is hope and that there is promise in the future.

I am a person who is more than her mental illness—a person with so much to offer the world.

I am a person who is asking you to fight with her and to not shy away from the conversation.

I am a person who is asking you to take her hand and walk this journey with her—to see her as whole, and not broken.

I am a person who is strong and brave and capable of amazing things—a person whose life is worth fighting for.

I am a person who suffers from depression, and this is my battle cry.

Dear Subway Station Baby

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

*****

Dear Subway Station Baby:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signed With Deep Regret,

The One Who Walked Away

 

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.