an open letter to mr. stephen thatcher, of Me & Korea

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In which I respond to Mr. Stephen Thatcher’s commentary from the Me&Korea May 2019 inaugural adoption conference. Mr. Thatcher is a Korean adoptee. Find his statement on page 93.

Dear Stephen,

It’s with great professional restraint that I don’t open my letter with a descriptive passage detailing my initial reaction to your Conference on Adoption essay. Instead, I’ve stepped back, breathed a few times, and hopefully composed myself enough to make myself cogent and clear.

Far from being representative and inclusive of Korean adoptees’ perspectives, your antagonistic and sweeping generalizations dismiss a swath of experiences in five judgemental pages.

Many Korean adoptees indeed encountered racism within their adoptive families and communities. This racism isn’t an “obsession,” as you described; it’s a societal fact that impacts how people of color identify themselves and develop self-worth. Evidence is not on your side, Mr. Thatcher, as color and racial issues–even within biracial and monoracial biological families–has well-documented negative effects. Please, feel free to ask for resources for this statement.

You also state:

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Wow indeed, sir, that you overlook a child’s rights when determining “worthy” placements. I’d reword this and call it “healthy” instead. If you truly care about these “orphans,” as you describe us, wouldn’t you agree that a racially competent home–one that can adequately support a child of color and their unique cultural heritage–would be best? I mean, you say it yourself:

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Obviously, no one with a heart wants children living on the streets. But we also don’t want them growing up blinded by their gratitude at the expense of their race.

You also claim adoptees “sensationalize” their experiences:

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Here’s where I’ll drop my professional courtesy and respond as myself:

FUCK THAT DISMISSIVE BULLSHIT.

In one word, you’ve handwaved a lifetime of struggle many Korean adoptees face. You dismiss it as unimportant, and downplay it as being propaganda to push an anti-adoption agenda; which is funny, because your agenda to disparage and smear other adoptees seems more community-breaking than people telling their truths.

Adoption needs these stories you find so unpalatable because if you truly want to improve it and make it better, we have to learn from our mistakes. And yes, in some cases adoptions were made to parents who had no business adopting transracially. Rather than spitting on the adoptee stories you believe are repugnant lies, you should embrace them. Humans run adoption agencies; humans are imperfect. We get blinded by love and charity but forget that bad things happen to good people and good people get rejected while sneaky ones get pushed through.

You’ve also seemed to confuse classist issues with what some adoptees are really saying:

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I can’t mindread, but this seems suspiciously like you’re referring to some adoptees as whiny brats unhappy they didn’t get the toys they wanted, instead of seeing their lives as cautionary tales. Again, I’m not a mindreader but it seems you are:

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No one can fully understand or appreciate why an adoptee might objectively look at their adoption and those of others with less-than-ideal outcomes and become against it. You, like me, can’t possibly know what “reality” any of us would face had we not been adopted. I found out my family regretted sending me away. I love my birth family. My adoptive family abused me. But I can still critically look at transracial adoption and understand that these things happen, but it’s on people like me–not myopic generalists–to fix it.

Having gotten this off my heaving chest, I wonder: Do you consider me anti-adoption? Based on my responses to you and work, would you judge me as having been so shortsighted I’d be unable to determine how “bad” my life would be in Korea and how great I had it in the United States?

You likely would, but unsurprisingly, you’d be incorrect. For all my adoptive mother’s flaws, she taught me what assuming means. I am not, in fact, “anti-adoption,” but do believe a firm overhaul of transracial and intercountry adoption systems need work. This work needs to be in the child’s best interest and based on sound, unbiased scholarly research and not rants against people with whom you disagree.

For my part, I am happy for you and your adoption outcome. I agree orphanages and institutions are not equipped for long-term childhood care. And, obviously, I agree that

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but what you miss is adoption is a result of a child’s loss. Adoption promises a better life. If adoptive parents are unqualified despite their best interests, are we really doing this orphan army justice?

I’d also like to close this letter by answering one of your (presumably) rhetorical questions:

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Yes, I have. Yes, I do. And maybe you should do the same for those who see things differently than yourself.

Feel free to reach me any time. My lines of communication are always open.

Thank you,

Sunny

you’re talking about adoption and mental health all wrong

Being adopted is hard; being transracially adopted is even harder (and I’m not backing down from that one).

Unfortunately, I’ve been seeing a misappropriation of adoption and mental health and trauma; some form of conflation that gets confused as “if you are adopted, you’re automatically sentenced to post-traumatic stress disorder and many other things that won’t come out until it’s conveniently necessary to blame.”

Or, the argument goes: Adoptive parents don’t listen to adoptees since our pain is too much to bear. Or, our pain overshadows an adoptive parent’s desire for a child, so they immediately tune adoptees out because we’re harsh reminders of their wrongdoings.

All of this is true and none of it is true.

Maternal-infant separation is traumatic. No one’s arguing something so obvious and provable. But what’s missed in the “adoption is trauma” conversations is how this early attachment disruption can be repaired.   Does it cause PTSD or the newly-recognized-yet-still-debated complex PTSD (of which is my own diagnosis; more on that later). Possibly, but a basic understanding of attachment disruption AND healing must also exist; otherwise, it sounds like **gasp** there is no healing or hope in adoption.

We can’t discuss adoption trauma without a hard nod to attachment theory. I feel this is a missing piece in online adoption trauma discussions, particularly by American adoptees (again, more on this later). Very briefly, attachment disruption indeed happens with separation from a primary caregiver at any stage, but a loving, supportive home–adoptive or not–can provide a center for earned secure attachment; that is, a child finds a new attachment figure and navigates life henceforth.

Without a secure attachment figure, children and adults may end up troubled, unable to maintain healthy relationships and thus, depression/anxiety is born.

If you’ve noticed, I say a lot of “can” and “may” because adoption is a very individualized experience. It’s why we can’t argue that every.single.adopted.child is going to experience all of these things; it is important, though, to ensure adoptive parents have these potential issues on their radar, so they can more mindfully parent their adoptee. That’s a good thing, right?

Back to attachment and my earlier PTSD discussion:

ADOPTION DOESN’T AUTOMATICALLY CAUSE LIFELONG POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER!

Anecdotally, the adoptees of all races discussing PTSD are doing so as a result of being adopted by abusive parents. Or, in my case, adopted into an abusive family as well as “integrated” into a racist, unaccepting community. I have no desire to detail what my PTSD-infected life entails now, but I can tell you with 100% certainty my PTSD isn’t from adoption (although yes, that haunting grief absolutely does suck). It’s from years and years of scapegoating, shaming, emotional and verbal abuse (with some physical abuse on the side), and absolutely no community or familial support. All of this could happen in a biological family; the transracial adoption aspect simply augments this bitter recipe.

We do current and future adoptees–and their parents–an enormous disservice by arguing all of these things will happen as a direct result of adoption. While a healthy dose of awareness can help a parent seeking to improve their skills, pushing such a dystopian message surrounds adoption with despair and hopelessness. I fail to see how it benefits the child.

Instead, why not argue that an adoptee’s mental health issues aren’t solely adoption-related, but exacerbated by a family unable to cope with their individual needs? Instead of claiming every adoptee will grow to resent their adoptive parents, how about we say this grief is mitigated by trauma-informed care and supportive parenting, like that being pushed by the United Kingdom?

These aren’t bulletproof solutions. Unscrupulous adoptive parents exist, just as less-than-stellar biological parents orbit around us. There are indeed adoptive parents who’ll co-opt their child’s trauma and use it as a way to excuse their own shoddy behaviors. But instead of blaming adoption for every mental health issue experienced, I would say we treat adoption as yet another complication in an already complex life.

Adoptees are individuals, built from the hopes of one family and the loss of another; our genetics dictate who we are and whatever health problems we’ll experience–respect that.

But if we really want to help adoptive parents ensure adoptees get the best care–as it is, the adoptee should ALWAYS be the focus–guilting them into believing their child is damaged won’t help. Adoptive parents absolutely should listen to adoptees and their tapestry of mental health concerns; these are important stories and can guide a parent’s overall parenting approach. Good parents welcome advice; excellent parents incorporate it into their lives. But our horror stories shouldn’t be used as punishments for adoptive families. Instead, they should be guideposts for what not to do, and how to do adoption better.

An adoptee’s horror story shouldn’t be used as a punishment for existing adoptive parents.

Just remember that our mental health issues aren’t everyone’s pain. It’s ours and we should own it and feel welcome to express it. It’s not a tool, though, or an instrument to frighten others into listening to us. No one else has a responsibility to fix our disorders, but they do have the responsibility to listen.

Adoptive parents don’t have a responsibility to fix our problems, but they do have the responsibility to listen.

If you are struggling and have discussed it with your therapist, I’d highly recommend Princeton House (associated with Penn Medicine) as an intensive outpatient treatment center for trauma, mood disorders, and more. They’re located throughout New Jersey and offer services for adolescents, women-only, and men. But IOP is no joke! Discuss with your doctor and see if it’s right for you. Oh, and I’m not affiliated with them at all!

Also, I’m very much against self-diagnosed PTSD and other such things. Please find support because self-diagnosis is dangerous.

adoption: expectations vs. realities

Take a look at that photo. Yeah, the Asian baby with the slightly disproportionate ears and smushed-up nose. This baby mugshot was my–for lack of a better description–personal ad photo my parents received when choosing a baby to bring home.

My adoptive mother enjoyed saying how much she fell in love with that photo the moment she viewed it; another adoptee shared how her mother loving her when she knew she was conceived (huh?).

But let’s think about this. Realistically, can you truly love another person (because babies are simply people, after all) based on a photo? When adults do this, they’re usually side-eyed as being reckless and irrational. Get a grip, well-meaning friends will say. You’re in love with the idea of that person, not the human being itself.

In adoption, particularly transracial adoption, these drive-through baby-picking-ads aren’t so far off from someone browsing personal ads or trying to find the perfect hairdryer. What’s dangerous is that, with a child, this idea of what this kid is and how it’ll fit in your home can create an unrealistic bubble into which the adoptee is placed, floating around their parents’ minds as expectations, promises, and unrealistic hopes. Imagine what’ll happen when that bubble bursts. The kid ends up conforming not to their parents’ imaginary silhouette but becomes an unfamiliar (unwanted?) mix of genetics and environment.

My husband explained it like this: Pretend a family of dogs (conformists, willing to please, pack-oriented) decide to adopt a kitten (independent, aloof, intelligent). As this kitten ages into a cat, it begins displaying typical feline characteristics which run counter to dog behaviors. Dogs are social; cats less so. Cats swish their tails when angry; dogs wag their tails for myriad reasons but the well-known one is happiness. Cats drop their ears in fury; dogs drop their ears in submission.

The dog family gets angry at this cat for simply being a cat. Stop purring! the dogs say. You’re ridiculous and bad–you need to wag your tail more.

But I can’t, the cat counters, it’s something that just happens.

What’s wrong with you? the dogs chide. Why can’t you just join in instead of hiding in your room?

And over and over again, until the cat hates itself. He takes no pride in being a cat, but only berates himself for not being a dog.

In a strange twist of the turtle and scorpion fable, the cat ends up stung by the dogs who committed to loving this former kitten, only to be hurt by their inability to recognize the cat for who it was. This is the danger of loving a child based on a picture.

Racial differences add to the tension. If not properly examined, parents’ cultural competency and racial attitudes may unfairly color (pun!) how a child develops. Is this fair? No, but it is a reality. A harsh one, but in the difficult truths we can learn how better to improve.

I believe every adoptive parent loves their child, but I think this relationship needs better grounding when publically presented. To claim “love at first sight” places expectations and ideas on a human that may be impossible to fulfill. I’d rather promote the idea that parents must get to know their adopted child, perhaps in a more intense way and with guided therapy, falling in love with that entire person after a journey of mutual respect and acceptance.

As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Feel free to get me on Twitter or comment below!

transracial adoption: how can we ever get it right?

This post is a little off-the-cuff today and started as a Twitter thread, so apologies for lack of editing!

I’m often asked if getting transracial adoption “right” is possible. My response is always, “This isn’t a science, but by reaching out and talking to transracial adoptees with diverse and uncomfortable experiences, you’re on the right path.”

I know speaking critically of a practice sometimes leaves little room for hope. With transracial adoption, hope means a parent’s ability to confront unfamiliar racial conversations and barriers remains at the forefront of their parenting journey. I relate my experience as extreme circumstances, although having an openly racist family isn’t as unusual as you’d think. Even still, much can be learned from extreme positive or negative experiences, since examining both will help land on a more favorable outcome.

I still don’t proclaim myself an expert on anything but my own life. Biases and emotional attachments trap me, too. But in order to help transracial adoptees and their open-minded parents–and ultimately, myself–I frequently question and confront my own potential prejudices and must remind myself to stay open-minded.

Doing transracial adoption “right” doesn’t require uncovering a super-secret checklist of things that definitely won’t f*ck up your child. I wish there was one I could offer, but like my mom said, “You figure it out as you go.”

Figuring it out in transracial adoption, though, does require more digging than what typical parenting might. First, there’s the obvious cultural and heritage loss. Second, your relationship ultimately began with traumatic separations chosen not by your child but strangers. Third, your child’s race will play a significant role in his identity and it can’t be hand-waved with camps, holiday celebrations, food, or even language classes.

I’m aware this leaves little room for a parent to succeed. Perhaps it’s not about success, since I view parenting as an ongoing duty, one in which I’m constantly forced to challenge my emotions and preexisting values. So, what’s a transracial parent to do, once they realize love is not enough?

One, acknowledging our racialized society before transracially adopting is crucial. This means understanding you are considered privileged and by adopting transracially, you’re in a privileged position to “take” or “obtain” a non-white child. This will be uncomfortable for some, while others will view this as an act of bravery. It’s more helpful to review white saviorism and, while you may not subscribe to that believe, transracial adoption stems from that mentality and should be understood.

If you’re feeling defensive right now, that’s fine. Sit with it and be mad, but think not of yourself as the accused but consider the society that grew these issues.

Next, start exposing yourself to POC’s books, music, movies, news outlets, etc. Get a Twitter and see what #BlackTwitter and #AsianTwitter, etc., are saying. Read their struggles and observe how you are feeling when you encounter them. Stay out of the adoptive parents’ groups for now and start following the transracial adoptees’ feeds, because they are POC, too.  Don’t filter out the stuff that speaks against white people or white parents; if it hurts, keep going.

Hopefully this makes you realize no matter how hard you try, the color gap between you and your transracially adopted child will never close. Families of color struggle with colorism within their own environments, so transracial adoptive families will undoubtedly experience conflicts.

Then, when you’re ready, ask questions. Not to other transracial adoptive parents right now; ask the adoptees. Many of you who are already doing that–and taking time to listen and consider our experiences/advice–are light years ahead of everyone else which is why I love you all. By getting uncomfortable, by questioning your parenting ability, by thinking about your situation–those are signs you ARE putting your child first.

Look, there won’t be any easy answers for getting transracial adoption right. There will always be holes, there will always be loss, there will always be inner and external barriers and anger. Instead of focusing on doing it perfectly (or thinking you already are…), focus on reaching out to the transracial adoptee community.

Set aside your judgments and fears so you can give your child the best possible future, even if adoption mucks things up a bit. That’s the nature of adoption; it’s a complex thing, and it’s why so many adoptees dislike the “adoption is beautiful” myth because it overlooks the many ways it isn’t. You are experiencing parenting hardship by stepping outside your comfort zone, but the adoptee will forever live with some level of confusion. As a community, we can help mitigate that loss and work together to build from it instead of make it worse.

PS–Adoptees get offended by the cutesy adoption videos and photos because when we see those, we can’t comprehend how one person’s excitement is based on another person’s loss. As a mother, I understand the excitement over a new family member, but please remember how adoptees began their lives.

PS again–No, I don’t hate you and I don’t think you’re bad for adopting transracially, but yes there are pockets out there who might but not everyone does so please don’t let that discourage you.

PS YET AGAIN–always remember this:

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Please reach out any time to chat!

Like this? Want more? So do I! Find out about my upcoming ventures on my Patreon page!

“AFWM,” the online debate all Asian adoptees should know about

There’s an incendiary topic burning with both racial pride and community outrage and it’s one my fellow transracial Asian adoptees and their families should acknowledge. I’ve refrained from speaking on it because the Asian internet’s reactions range from ambivalent to enraged, but I no longer want adoptees–already suffering racial identity crises–unaware of what possibly awaits them.

Many transracial adoptees and their white parents seek Asian communities to mitigate cultural and heritage loss. They do this throughout the adoptee’s lifetime, or later when the adoptee becomes an independent adult. Most adoptees hesitantly approach Asian online communities and in-person gatherings, fearing “not being Asian enough” or confronting–sometimes for the first time–groups of people who “look like them.”

What an adoptee might find is not a welcoming brother or sisterhood, but one who offers acceptance based on two nuanced things:

  1. If the Asian adoptee is dating or married, their partner’s race, and,

  2. If the Asian adoptee–due to a proximity to whiteness they didn’t choose–is Asian enough to speak as a member of that race.

The dominant Asian community isn’t issuing such superficial judgments, but if someone’s Google search takes them far enough, it might dishearten them when uncovering such hatred lurking among a tiny vocal percentage. Deemed Asian Female/White Male (or AFWM/WMAF), it’s a divisive topic claiming any Asian woman dating or married to a white person is self-hating, suffering from internalized racism, anti-Asian male, anti-Asian, or, in extreme cases, fair targets for hate mail and death threats.

I tried addressing this from an academic and fairly neutral perspective, framing it within the narrow confines of transracial adoption. I tried exploring partner selection from a cultural perspective, citing studies examining how a white family’s influence over a person of color’s identity more related to unconscious absorption of family values and general attitudes toward race, not self-hate. I also say:

When examined through a…lens where Asianness isn’t so much denied as casually accepted and maybe feared, a child will be less likely to attach to their outward racial presentation.

For this perplexing AFWM debate, I suspect that even Asians who were “raised Asian” in diverse communities take away the media’s portrayal of the white standard and shape definitions of attractiveness. While this isn’t excusable and more ethnically diverse media representation is necessary, this theory doesn’t imply self-hate as a catalyst for partner choice.

My informal and brief analysis was predictably met with scorn, because how could I, an Asian adoptee raised by whites, be anything but brainwashed into internalized racism and a strong desire to emasculate Asian males? Also, I am married to a white man but not because I worship my white parents (actually, for anyone following my work, it’s the complete opposite)–I married him because I am an independent-minded, grown adult who lived with racists, so why would I allow that into my life once again?

The AFWM argument insults an Asian woman’s ability to perceive racism. It implies there couldn’t be any other reason, aside from Asian hate, a woman could ever marry outside her race. The notion itself implies ethnocentrism, something minorities have spent decades overcoming. Yes, it’s true some Asian women excuse white male racist behavior but as humans, we’re all saddled with the same insecurities, racial confusion, guilt, low self-esteem, and other personal issues as any other race. To paint an entire community of couples, including their half-Asian children, as hateful forces ourselves back into oppression instead of forward into truth-seeking.

For adoptees, this hurts when we discovering this mostly online battle, as some of us were conditioned into internalized racism from the very people expected to love us. For others, it’s simply a matter of partner availability. Relocating to a more Asian region isn’t always realistic or feasible. Doing so while confronting their own conflicted racial identities and ensuring they choose a racially appropriate partner is even harder. Adoptees are especially sensitive to such isolation as it wasn’t self-imposed (though many anti-WMAF members imply it is) since our parents–like many parents of minors–controlled the majority of our life choices.

Any person of any race can racially “marry up” and not tarnish the reputations of every other person who dates interracially; those outliers exist everywhere and aren’t reflective of an entire group. People will worship whiteness while others campaign against such toxic behaviors, but adoptees must understand their proximity to whiteness isn’t automatic white worship or negative. We have enough identity issues; who we pick as partners should be our least concern. It also doesn’t mean we’re intending to emasculate Asian males or supporting any negative portrayal of them.

The second issue, that Asian adoptees aren’t “Asian enough” to campaign for our rights or activism, implies our losses exclude us because we haven’t enough lived Asian experience. But we still experience racism, we experience prejudice, we experience identity issues–and we do it completely without, for the most part, any support from the Asian community. We lost a heritage, the heritage non-adoptees have that we desperately seek, while living alongside the dominant racial group. Absorbing those white values wasn’t a choice, but we have the ability to make room for and care about our group’s causes. Perhaps because of our parallel lives we’re more powerful than we think because we have lived in two worlds and are ready to share our experiences.

One interesting related note is female Asian adoptees reporting accusations of “not being Asian enough” to date Asian men. One Chinese adoptee pursued an Asian partner, but because of her background and his strong cultural connection, he rejected her. This scenario is worth considering, as it involves being turned away once again, potentially driving some Asians to white (or other races). Again, it’s not assumed to be the situation in every case, but it questions why a person may date interracially (and why is this even a bad thing nowadays?).

Transracial adoptees, please know that many of us are working hard to raise our voices and your partner choice doesn’t diminish your value as an Asian or a person. But know this dispute exists, and know our warm receptions into the community may be absent from a small sector of people. Still, we will keep talking about this and adding our perspectives, so we can transcend hate, whether self-directed or external. We must unite against racism and fear. As blogger Eliza Romero says:

“While people in interracial relationships obviously shouldn’t be the only voice for a community, their voices and opinions should be heard because there is plenty of valuable insight to be offered.”

my mission, examined

I’ve always been transparent and believe in disclosing my work and reasons for why I started this blog, and how I intend to continue.

I didn’t set out to be a writer. That was a profession revealed to me through your support. Initially, my goal–as it remains–was to compile an autoethnography of transracial adoption, using my life as the basis for a critical text on race, adoption, and the American family. I still intend to complete that book, one day. But it would seem, like any well-intentioned plan, my mission has slightly transformed.

I briefly put on hold my larger project, choosing instead to focus on building an audience (perhaps to prove to myself that people really do care?) so that, should I ever approach an agent or large publishing house for consideration, I could say, “Yes, people are reading this stuff!” In my quest to build a presence, I found instead a community rife with anger, misplaced blame, and desperation to be heard. Though my online interactions remained secondary to writing, I discovered my scholarly research would fit comfortably alongside this social discovery of truth.

At some point, I realized that I was an expert only on myself. I still had little working insight into the system still creating adoptees and their traumas; to remedy this gap, I recalled a book called I Speak for this Child, by Gay Courter. I read this several years ago, before my unfortunate hospitalization but after my slow awakening to adoption’s more sinister side effects. It described a woman’s experience as a Guardian ad Litem, or what is called in New Jersey and other jurisdictions a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA):

CASA/GAL volunteers are appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children, to make sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or languish in inappropriate group or foster homes. Volunteers stay with each case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. For many abused children, their CASA/GAL volunteer will be the one constant adult presence in their lives.

Volunteering would be my next step to legitimizing my work, so I applied, went through training, and am now a CASA with an active case. (And yes, I know more about the child welfare system than before and I’m encouraged to only work harder.)

Throughout this time, I made and continuing to make new connections with the Asian American community. Although this wasn’t part of my initial strategy, I certainly welcomed these friendships and I’m thrilled at the relationships I’ve formed. It’s through these connections that I’ve cautiously re-examined my role as an Asian woman, questioning–finally–if my discomfort with my race was my fault, or taught. As I continue therapy and forging connections, I’m strongly leaning toward the latter.

What I’ve discovered is non-White community’s need for transracial adoptee voices, something I suspected before setting out on this mission but am content my hunches were confirmed. After all, transracial adoptees spent our lives entangled with Whiteness, not by our choice but by theirs, so the more reflective of us will understand our unique insight into power, privilege, and how both of those aren’t necessarily passed on to us.

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Despite this forward momentum, I realized I hadn’t shared my reason for being here, and it’s possibly because I wasn’t exactly sure.

Because of the work I’m doing and the voices speaking up, I see a different future now.

I see a future where those separated from their original families, their rightful heritages, and their intimate histories will link arms while shouting a unified cry for change, rallying for a peace we never experienced.

I see us all, those adopted ones, rising upwards out of grief’s relentless torment, leaving our losses not behind but standing on them to build a stronger future for anyone following our tumultuous paths.

I see us casting stones, finally, at the windows that allowed others to only gaze in at us, trapping us with unrealistic expectations and toxic values, while we–the begotten–see the true weakness in those lies.

I see us gazing outward for the first time in our lives, strengthened by the comfort in our own truths. For once, we’ll stare directly at the policies and legalities and structures directly, seeing clearly they weren’t made for us, but about us.

And I see those who long since watched us emerge from a biology unknown listening as we proclaim ourselves no longer the world’s begotten children, the poor waifs, the needy.

I see them stopping to hear us, not as an angry spiteful mob but a chorus built by fearlessness; they will see us, not as victims of a broken system but as survivors whose towering strength demand they listen.

I see us finally fulfilling not someone else’s dreams but our own, working together with those who long since imagined themselves our keepers. And as we at last come to this victory, we will chant

We belong,
We belong,
We belong.


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Perhaps this is idealism. Maybe, but I draw this confidence from you, the one who speaks up and the one who is forcing yourself to listen.

For me, I see myself one day standing together with my son, gazing toward a future where his generation and the ones after will be the instigators of a great empathy we ourselves still do not know. I hope one day my words and your words and those of so many others will coalesce into an apex of bravery, so our work will finally create a future revised.

And that, my friends, is why I do what I do. I will relentlessly pursue this work so our lives will matter to those who want to forget us. I will never soften a painful truth because if I survived it, those listening should survive its telling. I enjoy what I do, and I do it for myself, for you, and for those who will inevitably come next.

adoption’s other stolen motherhood

On Father’s Day weekend, my husband and son took a trip out to see some family, planning on staying overnight so they could attend a Sunday baseball game. I went out to the car to say goodbye to Liam and as I pulled away from his sticky preschool boy hug, he said

Mommy, please come!

For many mothers, this is a standard, heartwarming child’s plea: “Mommy,” our children urge, “don’t go!”

Another example: At Liam’s end of school year party, he refused to participate in his class’s end of year show. Once he sees Mommy, he breaks down completely. He’s always the group’s only child unable to join in when Mommy’s around, needing me instead of his friends. This is a habit formed since he was two years old.

For adoptees-turned-mothers, these events are harsh skips in our daily soundtrack, forcing us not into the quiet reverie of motherhood but into that complicated place called abandonment. What, I wonder, have I done to reveal my life’s secret anxiety?

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I consider all of this in context of not just my own personal history, but the history of the many adoptees who become parents. Is our heightened sense of loss, our prescient understanding that at some point our children will grow into adults who may or may not reflect our parental failings, so tightly wound into our interactions that we pass it on to our children?

I can’t speak for others, but to me, it’s a fascinatingly painful fear. My son’s innocent pleadings for a Mommy he never realizes could leave both confound me and, somewhat embarrasingly, generate a deep sense of envy toward my own son. Because of my simple decision to not give up on him, I’ve constructed for him a foundation unshakeable–unless, of course, I walk away.

Seeing its utter simplicity, seeing just how easy it could have been for my life to not be marred by adoption’s persistent complications, repulses me. I know for a birth mother, adoption isn’t easy.

Still, when I consider this notion of presence equaling simplicity, my memories rewind themselves like a tape playing backwards. School plays and insults and Christmases and harsh words and smiles become garbled together in frenzied reversal. As I begin with my birth–the only thing my son and I have in common is that we were born–I start my life over, trying to replace my son’s experience with my own. Eventually I give up, unable to write a story that never existed.

At that point, I wonder: Is being a “a good mother” one who merely sticks around? Does that mean I get a pass to be as mediocre or terrible as possible, simply because I know that no matter what, a child almost always wants nothing but his birth parents–regardless of skill?

Obviously, parenting takes far more effort than just described. As an adoptee, however, the innocence of motherhood–the innocence allowing moms to make mistakes and forgive ourselves–was taken from us when we ourselves were taken away.

Like other parents, we know how carefully children watch their parents. But unlike the unadopted, we have a full appreciation of the long-reaching impact our presence has on a child. Adoption ends the childhood innocence of believing our parents will never stop wanting us. It destroys the myth of family as safe haven. Adoptees, unfortunately, know how untrue that can be, how carefully we tread the line between good and bad parents. Despite it not being an easy choice to walk away (I wouldn’t–ever), I don’t think we can ever fully believe that, since it happened to us.

Because of adoption, the joy of motherhood–one I’m owed–has been destroyed.

As Liam grows older, articulating his desire for Mommy’s closeness is becoming stronger and more frequent. With his developing sense of self and familial bond–that of which I still struggle to experience–he unintentionally and continuously highlights a permanent space between us. I actively work on closing it while remaining aware of our life’s distinct path, a path chosen not by either of us but by those who swore to love us forever.

who owns an adoptee’s story? overshare versus pride in adoption

Do a search for adoption in the news (human adoption–NOT pet adoption; Google likes to lump those two together) and you’ll be overwhelmed by the number of adoption “journey” stories told not by adoptees, but by adoptive parents.

Sandra Bullock, these random white parents of a transracial adoptee, and yet another white woman’s story of adopting a Chinese baby do make for compelling blog posts and articles. We’ve got the fuzzy-feels of saving a child, helping a child, and of course, lots of tears.

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But that’s not all! Countless books have been written on what it’s like to adopt, from the financial hardships, the invasive home studies, the marriage strain, and the pseudo-enwokening of transracial adoptive parents. Most conclude with a happy tale of a family formed, love gained, and a child destined for greatness.

Why is this a problem?

For adoptees, these parent-centric narratives have several unintended consequences:

  • Parents’ voice overrides the child’s before the child can articulate their side
  • By the time the child can speak up, the community’s already defined the kid’s  life, so any adoptee-generated criticism is automatically discounted
  • Weird photos and personal details of a kid’s life are shared without the child’s permission
  • The kid will be a CHILD FOREVER, based on their early portrayal
  • Traps kid in state of forced gratitude forever

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By selling or sharing these stories–undoubtedly coming from a place of parental pride–I wonder if this borders on exploitation.

As a mother, I’m hesitant to share my son’s um, birth journey. I guess the biological kid equivalent would be his story starting from conception to the push out the womb and all the details in between.

First of all, sharing that would be awkward. Second, he’s going to grow up one day and probably direct teenage angst at me for a zillion reasons and my oversharing of his trip from being the sperm that won to a disgruntled teenager doesn’t need to be complicated by my inability to keep my mouth shut.

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This goes for ANY relationship. You know if you’re guilty, so don’t get mad.

Why is that any different for adoptees?

Being adopted, I get the process of obtaining me was fraught with complications, paperwork, stress, and probably heartache. Sharing that over several decades ago, however, was limited to conversations over wall-mounted corded phones and maybe a Christmas card. Today, I get that instant Facebook likes and blog post shares offer a validation more addicting than those provided by an adoptive-parent support group.

However.

We get you love your adopted child.

We understand the process was difficult.

And we acknowledge infertility sucks.

But please remember your child will inevitably become an adult.  An adult who, upon reflection, will want freedom of expression without being chained to their parents’ pre-existing portrayal and public back-pats.

There’s one other less obvious side effect of these stories and that’s the continuation of adoption as a practice without consideration of an adoptee’s experience.  The sunshine-and-roses narrative–while realistic for some adoptive families–means prospective adoptive parents will use these articles as mirrors for their own experiences, leading to potential horror and disillusion when their child grows up and doesn’t fulfill these pre-existing stereotypes.

To borrow a slightly cliched and Biblical saying, pride comes before a fall. In this case, I ask adoptive parents to restrain themselves a bit for their child’s sake, remembering their kid grows up and deserves to tell their adoption story themselves. Adoptees own their adoptions story. You don’t need the validation of thousands of strangers to justify your decision to adopt your child.

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I’m always hesitant to share so-called unsourced proverbs, but this is totally appropriate here.

 

when i lost my mother, i found myself

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When I was just about to turn 26, the ovarian cancer savaging my mother’s tired internal organs finally completed its violent mission. My mother died on Thursday, July 15, 2010, after a three-year fight she knew she’d lose.

It was a humid summer day and my room was a mess.  My brother–or was it my aunt?–knocked on my door that morning, to tell me my mom was gone. Several hours later, I was told there was something left for me on her nightstand. It was a card, addressed to me, while her body still lay in her bed and the hand that penned the message still and limp.

It took me several moments to open the card, but when I did, the message was clear. Full of love and persistent motherly concern. In a shaky hand, she gently urged me to

Find out why you’re so angry all the time.

Before she died, my mother would hug me gently, a body wrapping me in the medicinal scent of chemotherapy drugs and holistic remedies. She’d whisper

I’m sorry I couldn’t help you.

It’s been many years since I received that card, a memento framed and hanging in my hallway outside of my son’s bedroom. It’s displayed in its angel-fronted glory, in a custom frame underneath my son’s first foot and handprints and a portrait of my mother as a preschooler.

Back then, I took her message as a sign that yes, I was angry and her efforts to help had failed. I still attributed my anger to overall jealousy and discontent with the world–I hadn’t yet discovered my rage related to a lifelong history of abuse, racism, and adoption.

The most difficult thing in re-reading her inscription–so lovingly writ!–is acknowledging that she, as well as my father, was a source of that anger. That her choices in adopting me, her inability to progress and open her mind to color, and her inadvertant support of my father’s racist-abusive behavior caused my problems. That my mother, to whom I experienced an unhealthy over-attachment as compensation for adoption-related attachment issues, wasn’t the innocent, well-meaning idol I knew.

A disheartening reality, one most people who lose their parents young must face: Confronting the possibility that your parents weren’t perfect, but unknowingly failed you in many ways.

It’s a complicated love. I love my mother and wish she were still here, playing with her grandson and existing not as a playground ghost  but my friend and mom. But realizing her errors and her misconception that my anger was due to anything but her actions cements the wound adoption wove into our relationship.

She died believing she did right, which I suppose is the best way to go. But with her absence, I’ve slowly unfurled her imperfections, not out of disrespect to her but in an effort to free myself from a life chained to grief.

Her memory influences my adoption reflections. I’ve written of our racial differences in Through Her Mirror: What my white mother’s view on makeup taught me as a Korean adoptee and her fundamental misunderstanding of adoption and race in A journey through space, a journey divided. I shared her racial ignorance in Shut Up and Smile. None of this was done maliciously. It’s all part of our story together. The journey she took me on is ultimately one we’d never conclude together, and while honoring her through unflattering memories might not seem loving, it’s a testament to the complex nature of transracial adoption and a mother-daughter relationship.

Perhaps this article’s title is misleading. I have yet to “find myself.” Actually, I dislike generic terminology. Maybe a better way frame this, for myself and other adoptees suffering through loss without their mothers, is

When I Lost My Mother, I Found Freedom

adoptive mom returns children; i respond

In case you missed it, I wrote an article in response to a white woman who kept her adopted children for four months–and then returned them.

Here’s an excerpt:

Dear Every Adoptive Parent Who Thinks This Is Okay,

You promised to love your adopted children like your own, thinking adoption was the solution to whatever inability you had to bear your own biological children.

You underwent the process to obtain someone’s children, tiny human beings with souls already marked by uncertainty and insecurity. Children who, from birth, were subject to separations no being should ever consider humane.

For a short moment in these children’s lives, you provided hope and excitement. Even at young ages, children learn vulnerability is a liability and don’t offer it easily. But with their adoption, they believed they’d found a home.

But after only four months, for whatever reason — but my guess is that it was the side effects of their trauma and unstable upbringings — they were actually given back.

Read the rest.