The Ebb & Flow

Growing up as a Korean adoptee in a predominantly white town, mostly cut off completely from my Korean heritage was definitely hard. I struggled hardcore with my identity, and I know that my mental health was negatively affected, but at the time, when I was 10, 11, 12 years old, I couldn’t fully express how I felt and why. 

Like so many other transracial and transnational adoptees, it wasn’t until I was in my late 20s and early 30s that I finally “came out of the fog” and began to see my adoption for “what it really was.” 

Following the racial justice movements of 2020, I found and connected with a large adoptee community via social media. I finally felt seen and felt as though I had found a group of like-minded individuals who shared similar experiences to mine. 

There was an enormous amount of comfort in this. After spending so many years feeling as though I was completely alone on an island, it was refreshing and healing to find this community of sorts–a community which was extremely vocal when it came to airing grievances and frustration regarding their adoption experiences. 

At the time, like so many people of color, I was also angry. I was so triggered and upset by not knowing where I fit when it came to discussions around race. I felt gatekept when it came to claiming my Korean and Asian identities, and I felt racially erased by many immediate circles.

This created the perfect storm.

I went from someone who never really had negative thoughts about her adoptive family in regards to the fact that they adopted me, to someone who was suddenly harboring hidden resentments. I went from feeling like my childhood was hard because of racism, to feeling like my childhood was hard because of my adoption. 

Instead of mere sadness about my adoption, there was bitterness and sometimes, complete anger. 

According to many, the bitterness and anger that I felt almost seemed like a rite of passage–as if it was necessary and healthy to be pissed off about my life and my upbringing because then and only then had I finally “come out of the fog.” 

I also found that in conversations with other adoptees, there seemed a tone of pity when talking about adoptees who hadn’t yet come out of this fog, as if they were missing something and at a disadvantage as human beings–like they were broken. 

At the time, I too felt that everyone needed to “wake up” and see the trauma and abuse that adoption causes with no regard or sensitivity for any other parties aside from us adoptees.

In many ways, I was harshly critical of white adoptive parents –suggesting that they were inherently selfish, and that they were at fault for any and all of their adoptive children’s struggles. 

Once someone who wanted to adopt, I found myself to be judgemental towards predominantly women, who expressed their desire to adopt as a means of building a family when they were faced with infertility. 

It should be pointed out that at this moment, I was pregnant with our daughter after struggling with infertility myself. 

Leading up to her birth, I held onto this bitterness and immense negativity. I was determined to highlight for her, all the negative things that happened to me as a result of my adoption and being Asian, in the hopes that it would teach her to perhaps be stronger and a better advocate for herself than I was. 

And then when she was born, it all changed. 

One day I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the person I had become. A person who just saw so much negativity surrounding her own life in the midst of a moment so full of joy. 

My becoming a mother has really made me think twice about constantly harboring so much anger and resentment. 

As I look down at my daughter in my arms,  I can’t imagine relinquishing her to a family far, far away–knowing I would never see her again. The idea of seeing my c-section scar every time I looked in the mirror, and not being able to have a relationship with the life that came from it is simply unfathomable to me. 

But at the same time, if I was in the same position as my birth mother–single, fearing disownment from my family and without support, unable to provide for myself because I was living in a battered women’s shelter after running away from my abusive husband, uneducated past the sixth grade level…that would change things. 

As unbearable as it would be to send her away, anything that could create some sense of hope that she could be properly fed and cared for by people who would hopefully love her as much as I do–I think I would do it. It would rip my heart out, but I think I would have made the same choice that my birth mother did. Because I wouldn’t be thinking about the fact that she would be divorced from her language, her heritage, and myself; I would be thinking about the fact that she would hopefully be safe and that her basic needs would be met–basic needs that I could not guarantee I could provide. 

As I look down at my daughter, I think about how much I already worry and agonize over whether or not I am doing the “right” things in how I raise her. Am I feeding her enough, giving her enough attention? Is she meeting her developmental milestones? Is she happy? Does she know how much I love her? 

I already worry about adversity she will face and how I can protect her from the harshness of the world –and she looks like me. She is my blood. She is going to be raised by me, her biological mother, and she will have her biological father, too. 

I cannot imagine what it would be like, on top of all the stress I already feel, to also be worried about connecting her to a heritage, language, and culture that I am unfamiliar with. To worry that she is being teased because of her family. To worry that she feels isolated and alone no matter how hard I try to do everything “right” or how much I tell her I love her. To feel a knot in my stomach when she asks questions that I honestly do not have answers to. 

I cannot imagine what it would be like to have her tell me, “I hate you” like I did to my adoptive parents when I was six years old. I cannot imagine hearing those words and knowing that they came from a place of resentment for my bringing her here.

I cannot imagine being harshly judged by a community of people, nor can I fathom the amount of guilt I would feel if I learned too late that I didn’t do enough or do right by my child because of a lack of information and education. I can’t imagine being made the villain in my child’s story.  

As I look down at my daughter, words cannot express how incredibly thankful I am that I was able to have her despite my struggles with infertility because I cannot confidently say that I would not have chosen adoption otherwise. I do not know that I would have been able to forego my desire to be a mother and have a child completely, by leaving adoption off the table. Perhaps I would not have chosen international adoption, but I also know that I would struggle tremendously with being involved in an open adoption given my own lack of personal history as a result of my adoption. 

As I look down at my daughter, a large amount of the anger, bitterness, and resentment slip into the background, and they are replaced by tremendous sympathy and empathy. 

I now more closely understand the pain and grief associated with both birth mothers and adoptive parents, and I cannot continue to paint them with a broad brush of unabashed negativity. 

While I still firmly believe that family reunification and preservation are best, I only believe that to be true if the circumstances can ensure that those relationships are healthy and safe for the child, and not merely a result of a “first family first” checkbox. 

While I still believe that there are significant shortcomings and issues with international adoption, and while I will continue to advocate for better practices and adoptee rights, at this point in time I cannot say with complete confidence that I believe international adoptions are completely negative and should never happen.

I will not be afraid to acknowledge the positives in my own story, to show appreciation where it is warranted, or to say that I am “thankful” or “grateful” for certain things out of fear of backlash from the broader adoptee community. 

What I have learned and reflected upon in the past three months of motherhood, is that when it comes to my feelings around my own adoption and adoption as a whole, there is an ebb and flow. 

There are times to be angry and outraged–to speak out against injustices and call organizations and individuals out when they are perpetuating or causing harm. 

There are times to call organizations and individuals in–to help them understand and see better paths forward within an incredibly difficult and complicated practice. 

And there are times to be thankful and appreciative– for the sacrifices and choices that all parents in the adoption constellation make under some of the toughest circumstances– if they are sacrifices and choices that do benefit their children in some way. 

I don’t want to ignore the dark spots when it comes to adoption, but I don’t want to always be angry. I want to be able to feel and articulate the entire spectrum of emotions without judgment, and I want those emotions to be allowed to change based on where I am in my life and journey. 

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