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Archive for March, 2006

A beginning of sorts…

Find
“Find” by sume

I’ve never really told the beginning of my adoption story. I’m not sure exactly why I’ve felt so reluctant to try to write it down. Perhaps, I’m still struggling to get some grasp of it myself and always felt unable to find some definitive place from which to begin. It’s still hazy and full of holes. What if I wrote the beginning of my story as I knew it, only to find out later that I was wrong? I didn’t want to speculate or lead others to speculate until I had my dad’s side of the story. After thinking about it, I feel the need to write down my thoughts at this point. This is the beginning that I’ve been asked to accept though it was never spoken out loud or asked of me directly. Besides that, people including myself will speculate anyway.

As I pick my own brain apart for memories, I remember bits and pieces gathered from my initial, timid inquiries into the circumstances of my adoption. When I was a little girl, I found my green card in my mother’s purse. I recognized myself in the photo and asked her what it was. “You’re adopted,” she said matter of factly. I didn’t really understand what that meant. True understanding didn’t really come until I was in elementary school. Even then, I probably avoided the issue myself and tried not to think too much about what my adoption REALLY meant beyond genetics. No matter how much I tried to pretend in my own mind that it didn’t really matter, reminders of how much it did matter always popped up in both expected and unexpected places.

I remember my mother telling my brothers their birth stories. She would tell these stories just as I tell my own children of their births. She tried to create a beginning for me, but seemed unable to decide on where it was that I began. There was never any mention of my birth mother, whether she was alive or dead, whether I was abandoned, given up or taken. It was as if she’d never existed and I’d been conjured up out of thin air. I would stare in the mirror, searching for her face and wonder if I looked like her. I still do and sometimes I still cry when I think of her and hope somehow she knows that I haven’t forgotten. I remember lying awake at night as a child. I was so angry with her but sometimes I’d ask God to let her know that it didn’t matter why she’d left. I’d forgive her anything if she’d just come back. Of course, children adjust and move on. I went about life like any child except there was always something that pulled at me from some empty place within myself.

Once, my mother told me that they’d already had two birth sons but wanted a daughter. My mom didn’t want to go through another pregnancy and so they opted for adoption. She said that my dad had been serving his first tour in Vietnam at the time. He found me in an orphanage and began adoption proceedings. She said he had then signed up for a second tour to complete proceedings and bring me back with him. Being a little girl, I accepted this without question. It wasn’t until I was older that this story began to make less sense and brought an unlimited number questions to mind. It was so full of holes and left me nothing really tangible to build upon. All I had were my adoption papers and this strange tale on which to base my beginnings.

My adoptive parents divorced shortly after I arrived. My earliest memory is of one of my aunts trying to feed me from one of two jars of baby food. I was sitting in a high chair and refused to eat it. I wanted the other one. This memory is from very early in my childhood and I have no memories of my dad ever living with us. Why did he leave so soon after bringing me home? To some degree, it made me feel twice abandoned but more importantly, it didn’t make any sense. I think I lost trust in my parents after realizing too much was being left unsaid. It wasn’t really a conscious feeling of distrust, I just never asked again and pretty much disregarded anything else they might have said about my adoption. I also had this suspicion that my mother either didn’t know the whole story or didn’t want to tell me. It seemed the key to that secret door was held by my dad alone and he was practically a stranger. I’m not really sure anymore. Thinking of my adoption stirred up a strange brew of guilt, shame, gratitude, resentment and embarrassment. While all this was going on, there were the other things like racism and alienation to deal with. I think at the time, I needed that thick wall of denial and anger to keep myself from collapsing altogether.

I went to live with my dad after my mother could no longer take my rebellious behavior. I can’t say I really blame her. I was so angry and felt so alone. I grew up feeling as if I’d been bitch-slapped by life over and over again and no one seemed to “get it”. How could they? How could anyone understand something I didn’t understand myself? Even after moving in with my dad, I kept silent. I actually avoided the subject altogether. If he mentioned either Vietnam or my adoption, my brain would shut down and I’d retreat as far inward as I could manage. I wasn’t even sure if I could trust that he was telling me the truth or just something he knew I wanted to hear. It’s like feeling trapped in a corner and all you can think about is getting out. It doesn’t matter where. You just want to move on. The key to the secret room dangled in front of me all those years ago. By then, it would have been too much to bear. As with so much else concerning my adoption, I looked at it with such longing…and then swallowed it.

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Honesty, Guilt and Anger

week32 PS contest entry-Sky dive
“Sky dive” by sume
Credits: Original by Hourman.
Warning: unapologetic, rambling “I” post.

Today my blog traffic hit the roof and then someone emailed me and told me my blog was referenced in an adoption forum. I know sometimes my blog posts take somewhat of a neutral stance especially when it comes to the subject of adoptive parents. I’ve even painted a few “rosy pictures” in the past. I did that intentionally since the subject of trans-racial adoption isn’t a black and white issue in my view. There is some good and some bad, possible good results and nasty consequences. What I don’t want is for what I write to be used to paint a rosy picture of adoption as a whole while simply dismissing the negatives. The negatives are important though they can be disheartening. For any adoptive or potentially adoptive parents out there who might be reading this, please keep in mind that I am but one adoptee among many. I’m not sure how common my experiences are because times have changed. If you haven’t read my other posts yet, I hope you do before you read this one.

There is no end to my adoption story, no final word as I walk this path going both backwards and forwards at the same time. I move through my life like anyone else except that I must constantly backtrack. First and foremost, above all else I love my adoptive parents. I will always love them. Someone once told me I was in a severe state of denial when it came to how much anger I carried. I have tried to sort this out but am always torn between anger and guilt, love and resentment. Yes, more inner wars with myself, could I possibly be any more screwed up? Pull, push.

I tell myself to forget about it and just move on, but there’s just no closure as I’m pulled into that hole that yawns behind me. I know, I know, why don’t you just confront your parents and ask? I’ve wanted to, I’ve asked but it seems a condition that I must be present and I’ve been unable to because of finances and a whole range of other things. This isn’t something to discuss over the phone, right? And then I get angry. Why should I have to ask?! Why wasn’t anyone honest with me to begin with? Didn’t I, of all people have the right to know the whole story? And then I feel guilty. Push, pull.

I’m not in denial. I know full well how angry I am but feel unable to express it. Two good-hearted people raised me as their own, did the best they could but were just clueless when it came to how their decision would affect me. I am torn between gratitude at being “one of the lucky ones” and resentment at the price I had to pay in exchange. A price that no one asked if I were willing to pay. The horrible could-have-beens pop into my head once again, followed by feelings of guilt for being ungrateful. Pull, push.

God! Make it stop! That’s it. I’m losing my mind. The white coats will be coming for me any day now…

but they never come though sometimes, I wish they would when I’m having one of those days where I’m tearing my insides apart. I’m not in denial. I was at peace when I lived in denial and sometimes wished I’d never left that place of blissful ignorance. Bitterness is a nasty pill to swallow and that’s just what I’m expected to do. I know there will be some out there thinking, “You’ve been blessed. You’re life wasn’t all that bad. Shame on you.” I’m not denying that and I’m really not ungrateful. I grab peace in bits and pieces but it’s a peace that exists alongside a kind of perpetual mourning and restlessness. It’s the kind of like how a person might feel if a loved one had been kidnapped but never found, their fate never known.

It’s easy for someone outside to say just be grateful and move on. I am moving forward but at the same time, I’m pulled by guilt of another kind. I’m also bound and pulled backwards by whisperings of a birth mother to never forget, to never ‘move on'; a birth mother that I unjustly resented for so many years. I’m tied to my birth mother in a way that can never be broken. I know there are some adoptive parents out there who would be threatened by this but it’s just the way it is sometimes. When I was younger, I searched for her in every Asian woman’s face and in the mirror and sometimes I still do. And then the anger comes again. Why was she dismissed as if she never existed? She was MINE and I was her’s whether she wanted me or not, whether she’s alive or not. She’s part of me and she’s missing which means part of me is missing. I dreamed of her from the day I understood. I had plans to find her only to be told years later that she was dead. It was like falling into a black hole only to be slammed up against a closed door. There was no where left for me to go. Limbo.

There is an upside that I talk about when it comes to the in-betweeness of existing between multiple worlds. I have written about it often, but there is a down side to it as well. There are times when it can feel like existence without substance; a ghost floating between somewhere and nowhere. I am never more alone and isolated than when I’m in that place and I look to God and my own children for an anchor. Peace returns and with it, love. Peace will always come and it will always go only to come again as I walk, run and crawl through my existence. I know this. I am no tragedy. I am no triumph. I am water flowing under a warm summer sun, frozen on a mountaintop, raging beneath the ocean in tsunami armor, falling from some cloud only to evaporate before once again gathering myself somewhere between the earth and sky.

I love you Mom, Dad and Mom.

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family
“family” by sume

Now after all my complaining and moaning, how can I possibly say that *adoption/guardianship is okay? First, “okay” is different than ideal. The ideal situation is children being with their birth-parents and everyone living happily together in a mutually nurturing environment. “Okay” means I think it can work with a little extra care and effort. A little more work may be required to make sure adoptees don’t become too disconnected from their heritage/identity and to assure their feeling of complete acceptance. Parenting is a challenge under the best conditions. Things will go wrong and people will still make mistakes despite their best efforts.

I received a very nice email from someone who read one of my adoption posts. He and his wife are adoptive parents of a little girl from Vietnam. When I read his email and about all the efforts he and his wife were taking to ensure that their daughter not only felt fully accepted but remained connected to her heritage. It touched me beyond words. I actually cried. He ended by saying he hoped he was doing right by her. Those words echoed through my mind, bouncing around and around. As a question, it’s what every caring parent asks. As as statement, it’s every caring parent’s wish. Am I doing the right thing? I hope I’m doing the right thing. How many times have parents uttered or thought those words? IMHO, parents of adopted children face the same challenges as any parent but with a bit of a twist.

At the time of my adoption, little was known about the affects of trans-racial adoption on the adoptee. People just didn’t think of those things too much. I’m sure if my parents had known what is known today, they would have done everything possible to protect me from as many negative affects as they could. To their credit, I have to say that I never lacked for love. I had brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins who sometimes went so far as to dote on me. My adoption was never emphasized but I was never made to feel as if it were a taboo subject either. My adoption just wasn’t a big deal to the my family. They had come to fully accept me and that was the end of it. I never spoke of my struggles with identity and racism, but I’m sure if they had known they would have come to my aid.

As much as we might want to, I don’t think parents can completely shelter their children from ugly things like racism. It’s a part of society and children are bound to eventually become exposed to it. The important thing is that they be equipped to deal with it. Having a loving and supportive family open to discussions about race when the need arises goes a long way in helping children cope. In the case of trans-racially adopted children, I think providing a child with connections to and pride in their heritage is crucial.

This can be accomplished through interaction with a community of other adoptive families and their children and with communities sharing the same ethnicity as the adoptee. In the case of the adoptive parent who emailed me, he kept the name of his adopted daughter in tact adding his own at the end. He set out to actively learn about and interact with a Vietnamese community. While some might scoff at this, I think it’s beneficial in more ways than one. Not only will his daughter feel connected, but hopefully seeing how much her parents have embraced her heritage will only add to her sense of pride in it. It can also go a long way in providing their daughter with a sense of “duel-belonging” which can actually be a good thing.

*note: Since this subject involves preservation of identity which is a requirement in Islam, the difference mostly being in “terms”. Adoption by “western” standards implies pasting the adoptive parent’s identity over the adoptee’s. Most Muslims prefer the term “guardianship” because it more accurately describes “adoption” from an Islamic perspective. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.) After the initial distinction, I revert back to the term “adoption” because 1)it saves me some typing and 2) because it just looks weird to type “guardianee” and “the guarded” is just wrong. Please just pretend it’s there for my sake. ;)

Also, my ever present disclaimer that I’m no expert or scholar in anything. I am voicing an opinion developed from my experiences and nothing more. Being human, my opinions are subject to change but as of now, this is where I stand.

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That being said, yes, I know there will be some who view such actions as invasive or disingenuous. Parents of trans-racially adopted children will sometimes find themselves in damned if you do, damn if you don’t situations. There will be those who are against trans-racial adoption altogether. I find myself conflicted here and am still not sure exactly how I feel about it. While it may be preferable for a number of reasons for ‘like’ children to go with ‘like’ parents, that just isn’t the case. Given the increasing amount of poverty in ‘developing countries’, trans-racial adoption is likely to increase.

So what to do? I am aware of the bitter criticism adoptive parents can face. I have read accusations of adoptive parents “buying a child” from an impoverished country because children from there are more readily available and more easily attained. I’m sure that occurs and am against this practice. Children anywhere deserve to have parents who have been properly screened to ensure they get suitable parents. All I can say about this one is that I can’t put myself in the shoes of a childless couple who desperately want a child. I have four children of my own. I’m really in no position to judge the hearts of parents who adopt children of other races. In fact, the ones I know genuinly love their children and want the best for them.

I can only speak from my own experience. I no more have answers for raising trans-racial adoptees than I do for raising children in general. As someone else said to me, “There is no magic formula.” I really do believe it can work, but the reality is there will be problems no matter what you do. Most children go through some sort of identity crisis at some point in their lives, usually as teenagers. Many of us know “that phase”. No one understands us. We don’t belong anywhere. I know adults who are still struggling with that who weren’t even adopted. Whether being adopted, trans-racially or otherwise exasperates those feelings for everyone, I can’t say. Even children of “minorities” who have grown up with their natural parents go through this as do children in general.

For me, I feel it did make it worse but that’s just me. Yes, I would probably have gone through the “normal” stages of growth. However, looking back, it almost feels as if my growth were somehow “stunted” because of feelings of rootlessness coupled with the isolation. It was as if I had no where left to grow; as if I were a potted plant in a window sill. Even after establishing friendships with other kids, it was because I was “like them”. It didn’t occur to me at the time because I didn’t how to be any other way. Yes, that is also a normal teenage thing. You find a clique and be like people in your clique following trends in fashion and attitude. However, someone telling you “don’t be such a nerd” is different than someone saying “don’t be such a chink”. You can’t change your race and it hurts like hell. Having your very essence assaulted and rejected like that does something awful to a person. Sometimes, it was as if I had to become “extra-white” in order to make them forget about my race.

Would it have been different if my parents had made efforts to connect me with other Vietnamese? I have no idea. The only advice I can possibly give is for adoptive parents of trans-racially adopted children is to love those children with all their might, do the best they can and never take anything for granted; what any parent should do. Children don’t always voice their pain and suffering. I never told my parents and they never suspected. I didn’t know HOW to tell them. I wouldn’t have known WHAT to tell them. It’s difficult for most teens to talk about their feelings concerning that stage in life with parents, at least it was in my day. My own daughter is more expressive and more open than I was at her age so maybe things have changed. Maybe it’s just her and/or the type of relationship we’ve developed. I’m very open with my children during our discussions of issues like race, religion, society and life in general. I have intentionally cultivated that so that hopefully, my children know the door of communication is always open.

And again, yes, I still think trans-racial adoption can work. My case was extreme and even after all that, I still don’t think I turned out to be all that bad of a person. I have issues like anyone else, but hey, it’s not easy trying to bridge four different worlds together. I give myself a little room for having issues based on that fact alone. It’s not easy being an ethnically incorrect, ethnic wanderer. There are many trans-racial adoptees out there who have grown and flourished. Their experiences vary from similar to mine to less severe and sometimes even worse. Many are out there living their lives as productive members of society. Just as any parent anywhere, you can only do the best you can.

Time and becoming a parent has allowed me to better understand my own parents’ situation. I know they did the very best they could under the circumstances. It was their love and support that saw me through the worst of times. They gave me something to fall back on when all else failed. They are still there supporting me with more love and acceptance than I know what to do with. Not only did they give me love, they gave me security and assurance that no matter what, first and foremost I was their daughter.

If my experiences have taught me one thing, it is that the world out there can be harsh under any circumstances. Having the love of a family that truly cares and supports you can make a huge difference. It’s no guarantee. Love doesn’t always conquer all. Some children go the wrong way no matter how much love, guidance and support you give them. There are just too many unknowns and people are unpredictable. I will probably always be somewhat conflicted on this issue. My view is filtered through my negative experiences yet softened by my love for my parents; again I find myself somewhere in the middle. I’ll probably always float in those in-between places, pulled between two worlds yet anchored somewhere along the dividing line by something I’ve yet to fully understand.

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