I love gardening. I love waking up and walking outside to my suburban yard each morning and seeing what sprouted up overnight, checking if any tiny tender green leaves cut their way through my sandy… More
Some of you know I’m a contributor to Intercountry Adoptee Voices, an organization devoted to elevating the intercountry adoptee voice. In my latest post, I discuss “the journey back home” and what that idea means to me. Many adoptees and adoptive parents believe it’s a rite of passage, but in reality, it’s a very individualized concept.
Here’s an excerpt:
For many years, Korea was a Bad Word, something spat out, a noun formed in the back of your throat where phlegm collected. It was shameful. It was ugly. It was full of people with flat faces and squinty eyes and coarse dark hair like me. But Korea was the country, my home in only the metaphorical sense, that I was instructed to embrace.
Read A journey through space, a journey divided on Intercountry Adoptee Voices.
People who don’t believe in adoption trauma didn’t see my three-and-a-half year old’s son reaction when I angrily told him
I’m ashamed, I am. It was an unusually difficult day, with him home from school sick with the sort of illness that spontaneously resolves an hour after drop-off. I’d hopefully began my day, intending to write and do the other invisible things mothers do while children are busy growing.
By evening and before my writing workshop, I’d had it with L’s* “failure to listen.” He, along with the dog, ran sprints around my first floor, screaming and barking in a way that made it difficult to determine which noise was coming from what temporary monstrosity. My husband was almost home and I was putting on my coat so I could escape.
L lunged down the narrow hallway, screaming a preschooler’s typical gibberish. I screamroared
Mommy’s leaving you because you never listen.
The dog stopped.
The air in the house, previously made of shaking atoms and vibrating sound waves, became a paralytic poison.
L’s face held none of the smiling glee from the seconds before I swiped at his confidence. He looked at me with a primal vulnerability. He considered my threat and said
You can’t leave. We family.
And in that moment I realized exactly what I said and what adoption trauma did to me. It transformed mothering into an option, a threat, a weapon. A powerful tool to wield at misbehaving children because I believed myself unwanted. A five-second declaration laid bare my fractured attitude toward family.
I share this shameful moment as proof of a child’s awareness of a mother’s presence. And that a threat to leave—not just to leave to run errands but to leave, forever—is understood in a child’s abstract way. My voice, a tool used for sharing my own adoption trauma, issued forth the same threat adoptees received from their relinquishments.
I hope readers struggling to accept the reality of adoption trauma read my words and finally believe. Believe babies and children are equipped with survival instincts so heightened that those intuitions remain at the forefront of their innocent defense; and, believe, for once, this trauma manifests itself throughout an adoptee’s lifetime.
I am not proud of my behavior. I am working conscientiously to correct my words and understand my actions. I have since apologized to my sweet son, but I want my example to ring forth as a warning:
Adoption trauma exists. Overcoming trauma takes years of dedicated work. Adults possess a power over children that deserves mindful awareness. Please remember: Children are listening.
*Name abbreviated to protect the (literal) innocent. And to prevent him from, years from now, yelling “MOOOMMM!” when he finds my writings.
“I hope to accomplish better writing because I want to be a young adult book writer. I think writing is a good way of expressing yourself in a way that makes me feel good. You don’t wake up a writer. You’re born a writer.”
I found this the other day, buried and forgotten with an assortment of other journals I’ve kept. The hilarity and coincidences life throws us are so bizarre they seem contrived. And yet, here we are. The lesson? Don’t EVER give up and don’t let people discourage you, ever. Especially with writing, where sometimes the rigors of high school suck the fun out of the creative craft. Let your passions rest sometimes, but don’t forget from where they came.
Fifth-grade me would be proud, I think. I’m not into the young adult genre–the youthful mindset’s long been scared out of me–but hey, after decades of meandering, I stayed true to the path.
Thanks for sharing this journey with me!
Hello, adoption activists: We’re begging the non-adoption community to #JustListen, but I think they might be hearing us.
Before reading “the lucky ones,” I introduced myself as what others would consider an adoption activist, but I told the crowd that I just call myself a writer. I explained that adoptees are desparate to be heard, but we’re speaking to a crowd already familiar with our struggle.
But art, I said, is a great unifier.
Through “the lucky ones” and other pieces I hope to release (including the upcoming “playground ghost,” due out next month by Parhelion Literary Magazine), I present, in what’s intended to be a relatable way, our pain and loss and longing. All of those heartaches are easily identifiable by anyone, adopted or not, who circulates among us throughout this sometimes-wretched hive. But by weaving the subject within words recognizable by any human who experienced abandonment, people will, I think, find themselves behind the same mask adoption activists wear and understand our small niche’s large undertaking.
I encourage you to use whatever skills or talents you have to keep pushing for an audience. Knit hats for struggling young mothers, donate diapers to women’s shelters, create pottery for baby mementos–it doesn’t matter. Our art will resonate with the greater community–just speak to them and they will listen.
It will happen–we won’t give up.
A special thank you to Frank and Stephanie and Reshma and Lynelle and Rochelle and Marcie and Suzan and Lana and Adam and Liz and countless others who have helped get my work off the ground. Much appreciated!
I’m thrilled to share that my first literary piece, “the lucky ones” is now live in Tilde: A Literary Journal’s inaugral issue! I’m proud to see my work featured alongside some incredibly powerful poetry and prose.
In the time it took my mother to let me go, summer never changed to fall. Less than two months after her heart beat for mine, I became her living ghost.
We floated in parallel worlds, sharing blood, sharing tissue, the space between us widening with each infant’s longing wail. For nine months I heard her whispers and felt her lies, love, and tears. And then she left me.
For six months after her face dissolved into a foggy memory, I was no one’s daughter. I was someone’s lament, someone’s case number, a stranger’s hope. But for a few brief moments in my frenetic early life, I lurked in a shadowy limbo where unwanted children go to wait.
Tonight is the launch party and yours truly is a featured reader. Thank you for ALL of your support and I can’t wait to keep growing with you!
The internet is up in collectively confused arms (do we increase our tissue box supply or dust off our pickets?) over this latest factoid:
On the one hand, proponents for adoption reform or cessation are thrilled. On the other, adoption supporters or those who just don’t understand why adoptees are skeptical about such a seemingly heart-wrenching newsbite should then read the troubling responses like this:
There are a few errors here, but the assumptions (and rhetoric) stated above routinely plague adoption activists and hold us back. Let’s break it down:
- “the cost”
- Implies financial barriers prohibit “getting” a baby, as though a baby was an inanimate object or another status symbol; commodifies a human being
- “3rd world places”
- Ethnocentrism implying undeveloped countries can’t care for their own
- Partially racist
- Outdated terminology (very telling)
- “[give] Americans their unwanted”
- Reinforces the idea that adoptees began life as truly unwanted, partially upholding the “perpetual child” myth
- Does not support in-country social services or family support
- Ethnocentrism, and like there isn’t an adoptee issue here in America?
We MUST continue dispelling the myths surrounding adoption. From an adoptee perspective, this is a huge sign that we have miles to go before people understand the damage done by adoption. What’s worse is that attitudes demonstrated above discourage support for struggling mothers and fathers, framing adoption as the only ethical solution to their temporary problems.
As long as dialogue like this continues, control will steadily be wrested from families, as they remain convinced they cannot or should not seek help from their own governments. Shipping children out to the U.S. is not the answer.
Adoption, when it works as intended, can be wonderful. But supporting family preservation is an excellent solution as it empowers mothers, fathers, and children, rather than reducing them to desperation and lifelong trauma.
There’s a disturbing trend in adoption activism.
We all seem to write for each other, without hitting our ultimate goal: Reaching an apathetic public, a population whose interest ranges from “mildly disinterested” to “dangerously ill-informed.”
This isn’t surprising, given we’re up against issues like Anne Heffron’s points out below:
It’s not surprising, but it is discouraging. Then we have another issue: rhetoric. Are adoptees orphans (no, most are not)? Can we call adoptive parents “adoptive parents,” and should we refer to birth mothers as “first mothers” or “natural mothers” or “biological mothers”? The adoption community debates these terms extensively, confusing ourselves and definitely confounding outsiders.
And then there’s the argument over who is allowed to discuss what. Can non-adoptees speak to the adoptee experience? Should adoptive parents have any say in their children’s lives? And are birth parents really the forgotten party in the adoption discussion?
Finally–and perhaps most damningly–there’s the Angry versus Happy Adoptee distinction, an informal label bandied around to stigmatize, invalidate, and attempt to win arguments. We’re scrambling to say something new, impactful, and purposeful, but activist’s messages get lost in the flurry to push out content.
Naturally, I speak only from the transracial adoptee perspective, since that’s my lived experience and the only one I feel qualified to discuss. But even then, there’s a tendency toward defensiveness, as though I still don’t possess the necessary skill set for maintaining my position.
None of this creates an environment inviting outside stakeholders to enact change. If we’re not united, it’s challenging for others to hear our cries. But adoptees know it’s near impossible for us to agree on a stance, but we concede that adoption is not a self-directed choice.
So, as a thought experiment, I’d ask you to consider how hearing “I’m sorry you had such a negative experience” would feel if someone said that to you if you struggled with infertility before you adopted, or any of the other hard life experiences people live through that they had no control over.
Adoptees are the experts on being adopted. Still, our lives are frequently illustrated by a partially informed public, or by those whose experience doesn’t align with our own. Adoptees haven’t yet defined the line between objectifying ourselves and becoming consultants.
How do we use our voices as vehicles for meaningful change? Here’s my idea:
- Temporarily set aside our anger and acknowledge that adopters and adoption agencies, like us, believe in their mission. People are more likely to listen to rational speakers.
- Feature different adoption activists in our blogs, supporting each other even if we don’t 100% agree with a nuance in another’s view
- Stop arguing about terminology amongst ourselves and focus on our real goals
I don’t suggest forgetting that certain terms are debatable or abandoning our passion projects. Our conversations absolutely have merit and will enact positive change. But we’ll likely never agree; adoption is too personal an issue for that to happen any time soon.
Instead, for now, I argue for coherency and collaboration. Idealistic, sure. Results-oriented? Absolutely.
I am not a dog person. I am a “I like my dog” and a “I like about two other well-trained, non-odorous dogs” kind of person and I’m comfortable with my assessment. I’ve had 33 years to work out my preferences and I accept it.
But in the throes of one of my worst depressions (a topic I rarely speak about online), I was faced with a choice: Continue down the dangerous path I was going and find myself somewhere terrible (again), or find a way to work through the detachment I felt to everyone around me.
As an adoptee-turned-mother, momming is a harrowing experience. I’m expected to return to my son a love I never knew, accepting his vulnerability and allowing him space to express it. But when an infant is abandoned, vulnerability becomes a death sentence–if you let your guard down, someone might never come back.
So in a fit of cautious desperation, I proclaimed that we should Get A Dog. And not just any dog: We’d get a Labrador Retriever, the kind famous for being service animals and police dogs and–most importantly–highly trainable.
The expectation was this: Mindy (the Dog) would be a safe place for me to explore my adoption-related attachment issues, rather than allowing them to impact the relationship between me and my family. Less than a month later, we had Mindy.
Dog ownership continues to have unexpected consequences, some good and some slightly confusing. However, the best part is Mindy gives me a chance to explore my attachment issues without judgment or deadlines.
Here’s what we discovered after Mindy arrived.
- The cats weren’t happy – I can’t make this list without mentioning them and I’m pretty sure they can read and exact timed vomitus maximus revenge all over my floor. So there.
- I’m a great dog trainer – I’m cheating a bit–Labs are eager students. But training her has given me a level of control (and a willing party) over my life, something I’ve always strived for and now find deeply satisfying. As an adoptee, our lives were determined by strangers. Now, I get to impact someone else’s life positively and see almost instant results, depending on the treat I’m holding.
- Vulnerability terrifies me – This is a side effect of my home life and adoption, one that many of you may experience. In weak moments, I see her eyes looking right through me, with a trust so blind and willingly offered it sparks a visceral reaction. It helped me uncover my own issues with adoption: If you were weak, you might be abandoned. This placed me one step closer to understanding why I feel distant from my son.
- Neediness = Rejection – Along with #3, she needs me. L (my son) needs me. I never felt needed in any of my personal relationships, preferring instead to consider myself disposable. But to these beings, I’m someone. I’m important. And that’s horrifying. It’s easier to reject those seeking my love because adoption left voids where self-worth should have developed.
- I’m still not a social person – What is it about dogs that make people think you want to chat?
Obviously I love Mindy but what I’ve uncovered are the walls I’ve built to keep myself safe. The beauty of her company is not just her role as a playmate to my son, but exposing where I’m holding back. Until I’m able to address these issues–and I will–I’m unable to fully love those I care about the most.
Adoption, then, has taken something from me that requires extensive work to re-obtain. For many of us, adoption has taken our ability to form bonds and find safety even the homes we build after we’ve left our adoptive families.
But later, I found a poetic kind of parellel between us. She was readily left her mother and was taken from her 11 siblings without a whimper or a whine, entering my car and unquestioningly started a new life. I thought about her situation and realized how similar we were, with both of us brought into new homes and expected to just go with it.
Somehow, she fared better. She left her mother and siblings and will likely never see them again, yet accepted her situation and was already leading me home after our walks only a few days after her arrival. I, however, am left puzzled by her willingness to concede to her separation, choosing me as her Person and wanting nothing more than my company. Where I fight every attempt at inclusion, she willingly embraces it despite her losses.
I don’t understand her love and maybe I never will. But sometimes I wonder: Is it necessary?
It’s been an enlightening experience and seeing our future together and her impact on my life as I work through adoption issues is exciting. Thanks for letting me share this with you. I would love to know how pets are helping you through your adoption healing. Please share below :).
Spoiler Alert: Unmarked spoilers ahead. Be warned.
I’ve always preferred literature about outsiders. Outsiders who, when caught in a grapple with internal and external forces designed for failure, establish with me a comforting little kinship. These characters usually follow the same type: Alone or cast aside with problems partially of their own making and partially born from disappointments bestowed by adults sworn to protect them.
Heft combines elements of mild self-loathing and isolation, a sneaky type of solitude that creeps along so slowly it bewilders even the narrators. Unsure if it’s self-imposed or something else, Liz Moore skillfully reveals pieces of the main narrator’s life, making it uncertain if the 500-pound recluse is happy or a victim of his pain.
This uncertainty is a familiar mind state for many adoptees. Are we happy with our adoptions, or do we create false comforts, surrounding ourselves with objects (as does our main narrator, Arthur Opp) and eating until morbid obesity? What subconscious actions help us regain control over stolen lives?
Throughout the novel, Moore weaves a bit of a familial mystery into the threads of the characters’ histories. We are asked who parented one of the novel’s secondary characters—Kel Keller—a young man whose life was born of broken adults and bad choices. After his mother’s death, Kel frantically searches for his father, a man who disappeared early and was painted into life by his mother’s descriptions.
These stories, however, turn out to be false. Kel’s mother wanted to believe they were abandoned by a man greater than the sum of his disappointments. In the end, Kel finds someone less a father and more a disappointment. He also receives a letter–one that I will keep secret until you read it–providing advice many of us may have wished to receive.
Heft’s lesson is one from which we’d all benefit. Maybe it’s sometimes better never knowing the truth about our parentage, accepting that the people we want most are better left behind.
Why Heft is March 2018’s Adoptee Required Reading
Adoptees will find a reassuring comfort in Moore’s characters, relating perhaps too closely to the suffering of each of her brilliantly believable players. Everyone is searching for someone or something. If we find the it, we tell ourselves, we’ll be complete.
But sometimes answers are beyond our reach. And Moore’s Heft shows that, even in the absence of logical reasoning, we may find peace and build a life based on our decisions, no longer subjecting ourselves to others’ whims.
Have you read Heft or are you planning to add it to your to-be-read pile? Let me know in the comments or share your thoughts on Facebook!
If we generate enough interest, we can start an online book group, focusing specifically on works that contain themes on loss, family, and disconnect.
Hello loyal readers!
March has arrived (well, it’s been here and I’m a little late) and I’m excited to announce that my first literary work, the lucky ones, will be published this month!
I’ll be sharing an excerpt of the (very) short piece later this month.
I’ve also been asked to read it at the journal’s launch party!
Thank you SO much for all of your support. Most of my online work is adoption-related, but my true passion lies for creative non-fiction.
Love you all and keep reading and sharing. Without you, I wouldn’t be able to push forward.