Loss

When I think about the first two years of my life, I envision a deep, dark abyss—a sea of nothingness. There will always be a void in my life…one which no amount of love will ever be able to fill. That void—that feeling that something is missing—is part of being an adoptee.

There are seven core issues in adoption: Loss, Rejection, Guilt/Shame, Grief, Identity, Intimacy & Relationships, Control/Gains (Silverstein & Roszia, 1982). Each member of the adoption triad (adoptee, birth parent & adoptive parent) experiences these seven core issues differently. My being abandoned by my birth parents was the ultimate form of loss in my life. At the age when most children are experiencing the overwhelming sense of love parents have for their children, I was abandoned and left in a subway station. While I don’t remember anything from my life in Korea, I can only imagine how traumatic that experience must have been. Being pulled from the only life I had ever known and thrust into a world full of strangers, taught me from a very early age that people can’t be trusted, and that people who love me will leave me.

My adoptive family is amazing. Growing up, no conversation ended without an “I love you.” There wasn’t a night where I went to bed without hearing those three words. We hugged often, and my siblings and I never wanted for anything. As with most adoptees, my brain has always been wired a little differently, due to the losses I experienced early in life. No matter how often my parents told me they loved me, the fear and the feelings of doubt were always there. My birth parents loved me, but they let me go. What if I do something wrong? Will my adoptive parents let me go, too?

For me, the fear of abandonment developed into a perfectionist child mentality. I worked hard to be a good daughter. I worked hard to do well in school. I worked hard to be everything I thought my adoptive parents wanted me to be because I had convinced myself that if I was good enough—if I tried hard enough—then they wouldn’t abandon me, too. Nothing my adoptive parents did caused me to feel this way, but the mindset instilled in me at a very young age that people who love you will leave you, became an integral part of my childhood and teen years.

As a mother, my feelings of loss now involve my children and the things I will never be able to pass on to them. I mourn the loss of not being able to pass my Korean culture onto them and cope with the knowledge that I will need to depend on strangers to help teach my children about who they are. I feel guilty about the blank pages in their medical records where their maternal family medical history should be. I know these things are beyond my control, but the fact that they will always be missing those pieces of the puzzle because of me, can be somewhat overwhelming.

The losses I experienced will always be a part of me, and they’ll, unfortunately, have an impact on my children, as well. No amount of love or reassurance will be able to fill the void of those losses, but the love and support I received, and continue to receive, from my adoptive parents mean the world to me, and helped shape the person I am today. I will be forever thankful for every hug, for every “I love you”, and for every time they showed me they weren’t going anywhere.

Things

I wrote this piece a while ago, but thought it would make a great first blog post.

My husband and I are currently in the process of swapping rooms around in our house. Of course, with moving things around, comes the process of going through and throwing things away. My husband is very much a “thrower” and I am very much a “saver”. I am also an adoptee.

As I was watching my husband toss handfuls of things into the garbage without blinking an eye, I could literally feel my heart breaking. When he was finished, I quietly went through the bags and boxes piece by piece and rescued the items that meant something to me. My husband understood and left me to do what I needed to do to get through this process.

After I had gone through everything, we had a conversation about it. He told me that he wasn’t a sentimental person and never had the same attachment to things that I always have. I told him that adoptees view “things” differently than those who haven’t had that experience.

I was left abandoned in a subway station in Korea when I was one. I was left with absolutely no identifying information–no name, no birthdate…nothing. I was adopted at age two, and all I have of my life in Korea are “things”. I have no memories of the life I lived before I came to America.

I told my husband that I have a greater attachment to “things” because of those earlier losses I experienced in life. These things include baby items, some papers, pictures, and other items that have memories attached to them. I reminded him that his mom has his things from when he was a baby. I have nothing from when I was a baby. I hold very dear the “things” from when my sons were babies. They may never mean much to them, but they are incredibly important to me and they will always be here should my sons ever want to keep them or pass them along to their own children someday.

I was mulling over the events from this weekend, and I realized how important it might be to share this experience with foster, adoptive and kinship parents.

When you are getting ready to move or when you are tired of the clutter and are in the mood to throw things away, please be sure to give your adopted or foster child time to process the change and go through their belongings. It might take longer than you’d like for this to happen. If it means putting things into boxes and storing them in the garage or attic until your son or daughter is ready to go through them, then make this accommodation for them. Never spring something like this on your child and expect him or her to get over it and make it happen within a day or an hour. Getting rid of things can be a painful process for anyone, and even moreso for a foster or adopted child.

Please remember that the items you view as just “things” might mean the world to your child.