Fitting In vs Belonging

The image could be the mantra for many adoptees. A lifetime of trying to fit in, be accepted and feel worthy is exhausting and traumatic. We don’t always even know the toll it takes on us emotionally, but it manifests in so many different ways in our lives.

Now that I actually know I am 25% Danish (my adoptee dad’s original father was a Danish immigrant) this story captured my heart. An adoptee writes about her struggle fitting in.

I’m an Asian European. My mother is Danish and my father is an American. I’ve grown up in both places but have moved home to Denmark and am staying here because I feel this is my true home.

Both my Danish and my American family are white, all my friends here in Denmark are white and I’ve almost lost contact to all of my Asian friends in the US because they mistakenly think that I want to be white, my husband is white (I chose him because of who he is and not what he is), and my two sons are often mistaken for being white. So whether I like it or not – and I actually don’t – I’ve developed a white identity.

When I look in the mirror I’m actually surprised to see an Asian woman and I honestly don’t know how to feel about the woman I see. I actually expect to see a white woman with rosy skin, blond hair and blue eyes. Not because that’s what I want to look like at all but because here in Denmark most women have blond hair and blue eyes.

My Asian friends in the US were South Asians, so I never really had any…what should we say ? Mongoloid Asians as mirrors to compare myself to and therefore, I have no idea whether I’m ugly, average, or beautiful. It’s a very strange feeling.

I have to admit that my family’s feeling about Asians and non-whites haven’t helped me to become a proud Asian either. They’ve always made it clear that it was probably a mistake to adopt me. I was never allowed to call my parents mom and dad but was told to call them by their first names. The family has said things like “you’re not really like them (other Asians), so you don’t have to mix with them”. They went hysterical whenever I was with non-white friends or boyfriends and they nearly threw me out in the cold, when I tried to discover the Asian in me.

I was actually disappointed when I fell in love with my husband. I thought, now they’re going to have their way. Oh, aren’t they just going to be thrilled that I’m marrying a white man and to make it all worse for me (better for them) he has blond hair and blue eyes like most Danes.

It doesn’t help the situation that my husband has said that he always imagined that his wife and children would be fair and have blond hair. I get so hurt when people say “your sons could be mistaken for white, you can’t even tell that they’re half Asian”. Said in a tone expressing ? relief or pride ?

I know it’s a lengthy message but I hope that after having read it the reader understands why I’m not exactly a proud Asian and that it’s easier for me to try to blend into the white community and culture that I live in because this is the only place I feel at home. I am Danish; I’m Danish-Asian.

~ posted on Reddit

One comment touched my heart – it is the last one on that linked page but wow, two adoptees who married, that is like my own parents.

To the Danish adoptee, I am so sorry you were adopted into such a racist, white superiority, piece of crap for a family. OOH IT makes my blood boil when I hear stories like yours. How dare your family to even get a chance to adopt a person who is of color. There is definitely a glitch in the adoption service when it comes to screening the proper families to adopt internationally. When I hear stories like yours it makes me sad, angry and I can’t help thinking that there has to be way to solve these problems. I can only begin to understand how much pain you have gone through and trying your whole life to make sense of what it is that you have gone through. Let me tell you, you aren’t alone in this world. I am married to a Korean adoptee and he didn’t have the best adoptive parents either. I am also a Korean adoptee and being married to an adoptee, it is extremely complicated and trying at times. Our adoption and how we were both raised comes out in our marriage a lot.

Identity – Before and After

Today’s blog assist comes from this man – Travis Bradburn

What makes you… you? Those people with a DNA surprise have a “before” and “after” marking the day their identity was upended. Family secrets tear at the fabric of who a person is. Tell the truth and practice forgiveness.

In 2018, at the age of 45, Travis Bradburn’s identity was upended. In an instant, his life now had a before and an after. He saw – “Predicted relationship – half brother.” Those were the words he saw when he opened up his 23 and Me app.

He writes – In very real ways, I always had a feeling of being ‘out of place’ and like I didn’t quite belong somehow. Those words…”predicted relationship – half brother” meant that I was 45 years old, and did not know who my father was. My brother and I were raised by a single mother, who alone, along with our church family, raised us to be strong, independent, educated, hard-working, faith-filled people. She struggled to provide, but she did it. 

He continues telling his story – I’m a happily married man with a wife who has been very supportive through this entire process. And I have 4 beautiful children I love more than life. In spite of all of this, in making this discovery, I became unmoored. I did not know who I was; who made me. I looked in the mirror and couldn’t fully recognize myself. The most basic parts of my life story were no longer true.

As I was told my father’s name, I learned he was alive; a little about who he was; and that he had 3 children. I had more brothers and a sister. It’s amazing how quickly you can find information about people online when you really want to know.

I never had a father in my life, and now as I learned this truth, I was intent on making sure that as little time as possible passed before we met. And so 17 days after my discovery, I sat down at a restaurant table with my father. It was a surreal 2 hours that included some laughter, tears, awkwardness, questions and good conversation. Those moments are forever etched in my mind. During our visit, that feeling of ‘other-ness’…like I didn’t quite belong in some way…disappeared. Many of the feelings of not knowing why I was a certain way…felt answered.

We continued to meet together for dinners over the next several months. They are cherished memories I will always have, of just getting to know each other, and I hope those can continue for some time. Eventually, he agreed to share this news with his other two living children…my sister and my brother.

About 13 months after my discovery, I sat in my father’s home and met my family I didn’t know existed for the first 45 years of my life. We talked, laughed and shed a few tears for several hours that day. We shared photographs and stories. Words can’t describe how happy and grateful I was to see the burden of this secret lifted off my father’s shoulders. It was palpable and something I will never forget.

Genetic connection and identity are inseparable. Please read that sentence again. I believe this to be an irrefutable truth that has profound implications. Those who have not experienced this could never fully comprehend it. I feel like I could have been a human experiment in the debate of nature versus nurture. Think about your mannerisms, appearance, your laugh, manner of speaking, aspects of personality, the way you walk, things you like and dislike…to name just a few…all more highly connected to genetics than I think people realize. Not seeing that genetic connection in your life has implications.

Learning you are a 45-year secret is hard. Learning you are no longer a secret was healing beyond belief. Maybe that’s part of why sharing my story matters to me.

My Parents Didn’t Want Me

From an adoptee –

The adopted child will never feel like they weren’t abandoned, will never feel good enough, will never feel fully part of your world. We are told to be grateful when all we feel is pain, so are we grateful for pain ? This sets up expectations within every single future relationship we will ever have. It never goes away. We have to learn how to deal with it and cope in a world that doesn’t recognize or understand the pain of “my parents didn’t want me”.

Of course, I can’t or wouldn’t pretend to speak for EVERY adopted person but I’ve seen this so often that I know it is an all too common feeling – especially if the adopted person was never given any context as the foundation for having been adopted.

Feelings of loss and rejection are often accompanied by a damaged sense of self esteem. There is an understandable tendency to think that “something must be wrong with me for my birth parents to have give me away.” It must be understood that these feelings and thoughts are unrelated to the amount of love and support received from the adoptive parents and family.

Adoption trauma refers to the shock and pain of being permanently and abruptly separated from biological family members and can affect both the birth parent and the child who is being adopted, given the circumstances of the separation. The level of emotional and mental difficulty, as well as the long-term impact of adoption trauma, varies depending on the child’s age, maturity level, and other circumstances involved in the adoption.

The person who has been adopted, even if now living in a loving and stable home, has lost their birth parents as well as a sense of being biologically linked to other family members. The individual’s sense of loss may not be acknowledged or may be downplayed. 

Feeling abandoned early in life can lead to attachment issues in adults who have been adopted. Those early social experiences, including loss and rejection, create individual differences in security, which shape relational attitudes and behaviors. Being adopted may be associated with a sense of having been rejected or abandoned by birth parents, and of ‘‘not belonging.’’ Adoption may be linked with perceptions that the individual is unworthy of love and attention or that other people are unavailable, uncaring, and rejecting.

Adult adoptees often feel hurt that their birth parents did not or could not raise them. Hurt that their sense of self was harder to obtain. Hurt that they, to this day, feel different or outcast. Both happiness and sadness can be felt together. Asking an adoptee if he or she is “happy” with his or her adoption journey is a double-edged sword, for adoption is not possible without loss. And with loss comes sadness. They may feel angry that they do not know the truth of their identity.

Many adoptees find it difficult to express the hurt and loss they feel, for fear of upsetting their adoptive parents. While this emotional withholding is unintentional, it creates feelings of isolation. Feelings that often continue into adulthood. Sometimes, love and loneliness go hand in hand. Being loved is wondrous, but it doesn’t prevent loneliness.

A reluctance to discuss the adoption reinforces the idea that adoption is some really negative condition. Therefore, either the birth parents were horrible, unfeeling people, or that the adoptee was somehow so undesirable that the birth parents could not bear to keep him/her. An adoptee is often told that only the adoption agency/adoptive parents saved the child’s life by rescuing him/her. Given the alternative between a self-concept of being undesirable or a projected concept of birth parents as unloving and unfit, most individuals choose the latter.

For a baby being adopted, there is no getting around the fact that this infant must make an abrupt shift in bonding, whether it happens at birth, at three days, or at six months. How that is interpreted to the child, and by the child, and for the rest of his/her life, matters. Tt is ludicrous to say that adoptees have no different issues in life than do those who are not adopted, whether adopted at birth or sometime later, such as through the foster care system. It is not correct or helpful to portray adoptees as “lucky” to be adopted by wonderful adoptive parents. This puts an incredible burden on the adoptee to feel grateful to the adoptive parents, and/or the adoption system, It is a burden not put upon non-adopted people.

The idea that the adoptee was abandoned and rejected by birth parents and rescued by adoptive parents reinforces expectations and perceptions concerning all parties in an adoption, adoptees, adoptive parents, and too often in the industry, discounts the birth parents’ feelings and continued existence. Is it possible to find a more positive way of dealing with life’s experiences, including being adopted, having to relinquish a child, losing a pregnancy, adopting a child, or having a relationship not turn out the way we had hoped ? As a society, we continue to search for the appropriate balance regarding these kinds of experiences.

What Pro-Family Preservation Is And Is Not

I would NEVER advocate for ANY child to remain in an abusive or neglectful environment. That’s NOT what being pro-family preservation is about.

A family is a fundamental institution that provides a sense of identity and feelings of belonging. However, conflicts can affect the functioning of the family, which endangers a child’s development. In homes where there is a high level of conflict between parents, the children are at a greater risk of developing issues with concentration and managing their emotions.

A surprising 70% to 80% of Americans consider their families dysfunctional. While violence, abuse, and neglect are common forms of dysfunction, many families reported feelings of estrangement, emotional disconnection, and non-traditional family structures as well.

This has led to the development of family preservation services to strengthen the community and ensure safe environments for children. The aim is to create good quality parenting that advocates for emotional support and positive reinforcement within families to reduce conflicts.

Family preservation is a movement by state and child welfare agencies aimed at helping families cope with whatever stressors are affecting their ability to nurture children. This movement grew due to the recognition that family separation leaves some lasting adverse effects on the children. It’s possible to protect children from unwarranted traumas by offering information, guidance, and support to parents.

Millions of children worldwide live in care institutions worldwide, but a shocking 80% of kids living in children’s homes have at least one living parent. The increased number of orphanage-style institutions—coupled with an increase in people wanting to adopt babies—has motivated families in vulnerable situations to willingly take their children to the orphanage. Most of the parents who would do this are simply hoping this will give their children a better life.

Although these institutions offer refuge to such children, even the best caregivers can never replace biological families. The separation from family can harm the child emotionally and affect their cognitive behavior. The effects are worse the younger the child is and an infant is as much at risk of separation trauma as an older child. Do not think because they are preverbal that they don’t have an instinct for the mother who gestated and birthed them.

Family preservation services can benefit any parent who needs a non-judgmental environment to learn parenting strategies and other beneficial skills for their families. Typically, all families will face financial, employment, parenting, substance abuse, or illness cycles that affect the bond between members. In such challenging times, rather than giving up on your family, you need the proper support to help you safely stay together.

Much of the above (with some minor modifications from me) came from the source of my image – Camelot Care Center. There is more about their services at the link. I am not recommending them or do I have any complaint against what they do. I simply wanted to address that wishing to see fewer children adopted and more vulnerable families supported does not mean that I do not recognize that some families are in difficult straits for whatever reason. Some of those children will end up being removed. Some of those will be placed into foster care. Others may be adopted. If there is any good quality to their parents, that is where they need to grow up.

Who’s Real ?

It’s a conundrum, a confusing and difficult problem or question. I understand it personally. When I finally learned who my original grandparents were and met relatives who were genetically and biologically related to me, my adoptive family receded into the background.

As a child, I had grandparents who adopted my parents when they were young. They are the only grandparents I knew growing up and going through old family letters from the early 1980s that I need to finally let go of, I see how they were my personal cheerleaders as I left one kind of life I had been living and began the long and slow process of making a different kind of life for myself. I am grateful for their love and concern.

I have aunts who became more significant again in my own life after my parents died. I am grateful for their love and support.

Those of us impacted by adoption often struggle to describe our relationships with two sets of relatives. Sometimes the word “real” is used to describe those that family DNA type websites would consider as being accurately related to us. It gets cumbersome to try and define “real” from “acquired”.

The topic came up yet again in my all things adoption group. I thought this was a good response – “Everyone is real. It’s kind of a given.” Direct and to the point. Even so, it can be confusing to people who don’t know your personal family history.

We aren’t exactly playing along with our adoptive relatives but for an adoptee, the person is often too well aware that their name and their birth certificate have been falsified to change their identity – from the one they were born with to being in effect the possession of the people who adopted them. This was often done to prevent the original parents and the adoptees from ever finding each other, though with the tools available today (inexpensive DNA testing and matching websites) reunions are taking place constantly.

One adoptee admits – I had a hard time with “real” as a kid growing up. When people found out that I was adopted I was always asked, “Do you know your real parents?” “Do you have any real brothers or sisters?” “Do your adoptive parents have any real kids?” People seemed to use that word in place of biological and to my kid-brain, it felt like I was somehow less of a person because I wasn’t my adopters “real” kid.

Add to this that adoptees often honestly do feel that they don’t belong in the family they are being raised within. And quite honestly, that feeling is accurate, even though it is their reality.

Every Single Day

Today’s true adoptee story . . . .

Today, my sister flies up to Philadelphia to meet her biological dad and half-siblings for the first time. I am SO excited and happy for her. At the same time, I am sad and jealous.

My biological mom has zero desire to meet me or get to know me. My biological dad claims he had no idea I existed and that it’s impossible for him to have a daughter. He got really mad when my half-brothers brought it up to him.

I am okay with my adoption most days, but today, I am angry.

I hate that there were so many secrets. I hate that I was a secret. I hate that I might never know the truth about my birth and adoption. I hate that no one in my biological family wants to get to know me or meet me.

I hate that I can’t tell my kids who they look like on my family side. I hate that I don’t feel like I belong in my adopted family or my biological family. I hate that everyone thinks it’s so wonderful that I was adopted.

I hate that my adoption was closed. I hate that I am not allowed to have a copy of my own birth certificate. I hate that everyone says that DNA doesn’t matter and love is the only thing that makes a family.

I hate that I have abandonment issues, and I fear that everyone I meet will eventually leave me or be taken away from me.

I hate that my biological mom kept my brothers and not me.

I hate that I am expected to be grateful. I hate that everyone thinks my biological mom did this amazing selfless thing by essentially abandoning me.

Most of all, I hate that I subconsciously think about the fact that I am adopted every single day of my life.

Oversharing In The Classroom

I am frequently surprised how common some connection to adoption is. If you were an adoptee, how would YOU have felt if your teacher in school openly shared with the classroom information about her “adoption journey” as it is ongoing? How would hearing details about “matching” and “failed adoptions have affected you!? How would a “slideshow” announcing the birth of teacher’s adopted child affect you?

These questions were put to my all things adoption group – and adoptees and former foster youth were asked to be the only responders (and not parents who had given a child up for adoption, adoptive parents or foster caregivers).

Some replies –

I would have been so uncomfortable but wouldn’t have known how to voice that as a student. Even now as an adult who is coming into my power, I still shake like a leaf when I speak my truth about the trauma of adoption.

My 5th grade teacher adopted a boy they were fostering. It wasn’t infant adoption with that whole journey, but we all certainly knew this boy. He was always in her classroom during lunch or after school. As I was only 10, I guess it solidified a lot of the propaganda I was fed my whole life. I liked it because I felt like I related to it? I didn’t know any other adoptees at the time. But I was a child! As an adult out of the fog, looking back, I feel very uncomfortable about it. I’m not sure how else to say it.

I would have felt very awkward. It seems so very personal to share with people at school. Especially children. They aren’t in a position to understand or put into context what any of that means. I would also feel that it was attention seeking behavior. It’s just someone playing at being a hero. No thanks.

Would have made me f**king uncomfortable as a kid, and it makes me furious as an adult. Don’t freaking normalize the act of switching babies from one family to another. We need kids growing up with a better understanding of how damaging our current way of dealing with family disfunction is. If this was one of my kids teachers I would demand it stop.

I would still keep my own adoption a secret. And I would feel terrorized.

I was very much “in the fog” for my entire childhood and most of adulthood so I wouldn’t have noticed anything problematic about it. I wanted to be like other kids so much that I probably would have been kind of glad to see someone else in my daily life was affected by adoption too, as it would mean I would be less singled out as having an alternative family structure.

I have to say I find the failed adoption thing the weirdest part, then and now. I was always assured that adoption was permanent and they wouldn’t have it any other way so I’m sure that probably would have made me feel …uncomfortable? Normalizing the process of ….deciding you don’t want that child after all. That is what they mean by failed adoption, right?

Someone else thought that last one wasn’t what was meant in this particular situation (though sadly such a think as second chance adoptions actually do happen in reality). So the counter response was – I have to imagine by failed adoption they mean the baby’s natural parents decided not to go through with the adoption. Which is always disturbing. Hopeful adoptive parents act like that was something bad that someone did to them, or they were “tricked” or that someone took their baby away.

I would have been so upset and not even known why because that’s pretty much how triggering worked when I was a kid. I can look back and connect all the dots now, but not then. I would have been a mess. It would have manifested into days and maybe weeks of negative behavior to myself and to others.

This makes my stomach churn now. I can imagine it would have affected me similarly at the time but I wouldn’t have known exactly why.

I remember being 11 or 12 years old, when the a teacher started talking to me about Child Protective Services and my potential removal. I know it’s not the same but I heavily didn’t want to associate home life and school life. Because it’s their personal thing, OK mention it once I hear you, but it would have me outright avoiding their class, probably with some defiance, if it were repetitive. I don’t know if I would have even had the language then to express my feelings.

If you doubt adoptees suffer trauma, consider what the above adoptees have said consistently.

Can We Just Pretend ?

What to do for this little boy ?

Ok here is my question – I adopted our kiddo when he was 4. He has always known he’s adopted, he’s always been excited and proud of it. He introduces himself as adopted. He has a long story but basically he came to us with the termination of parental rights and two failed adoptions. Lots of trauma and 17 placements.

He’s now almost 7 and in 1st grade. So here’s what’s up…all of a sudden he wants us to pretend he’s not adopted. To not talk about it and let him pretend he came from us. He wants us to make up a birth story. We don’t have biological kiddos, so it’s not like he’s hearing other birth stories here. The kids all vocalize adoption and biological families. His mother is deceased and his biological family hasn’t been open to any contact.

He’s super smart but isn’t able to articulate what created this idea. He just wants it. My question is how to approach this…do we give him this? Do we allow it for however long it lasts, while initially reminding him that he can always take it back? Or do we just apologize that his story is his and he doesn’t have to ever share it with anyone he doesn’t want to but that we can’t just pretend?

I’m at a loss. I want to do what’s right by him and honor his experience but I also don’t want to play along, if it’s harmful down the road. I feel like I will make the wrong decision no matter what I choose.

Someone offered this explanation that makes sense – We had a friend that didn’t want people knowing she was adopted. Said she hated when people would say “oh, she’s adopted”. She just wanted to be like her friends and be a part of the family. Maybe that’s how he is feeling.

Then there was this sad reality (kids really can be cruel) – When I was in high school I had someone make fun of me for being adopted and refer to me as a “dumpster baby” multiple times. I was 15 and shut it down and moved on.  IF that had happened to me when I was 7, I imagine it would have been incredibly damaging and embarrassing for me.

Someone else suggested –  I work with young kids, and I think pretending/role playing is their way of reflecting. In order to understand, “What does it mean to be adopted?” he has to first ask, “Well, what would it be like if I wasn’t adopted? In what ways is it different?” Completely normal child behavior; I’d let it happen.

To which another affirmed –  That’s a great way of thinking about it. Children do think about hypotheticals a lot and that’s discouraged more and more as we age. I think that makes a lot of sense given that he’s 7.

An adoptee suggests –  I would personally ask him if there is a reason he wants to – if someone said something or why ? – and just go with it. I would not tell him he can’t pretend. It may just be his way of coping right now because obviously something is going on in his mind that’s causing him to want this. So I would just ask questions to make sure he’s okay and listen to him and go with it.

And I really, really like this suggestion –  “Sometimes I think of “if” you had been born to me but then, I remember you wouldn’t be the same you, if you had. Your mom, DNA and genetics have made you – you – and I would never want to miss you. You wouldn’t be the same you, if you were born to me.”

Now that is beautifully honest.

A Separate Reality

An adoptee may “know” they belong with their adoptive family but there is this “other element”, this feeling that they ALSO belong somewhere else. A need to know, to be complete inside. Otherwise, never whole. So the adopted person doesn’t actually feel like they belong with the natural parent(s) either – if they end up reunited.

Like one is a broken circle. Like they have this person somewhere inside of them that they have not been allowed to be. Like walking on a fence that one can fall off of at any moment.

Adoptive parents have a certain insecurity. They live in fear that someone is going to take their child away. That is their deepest darkest fear. At the same time, the adoptee always feels like they are going to be rejected.

It is entirely not a “normal” situation and there is no getting around that.

Dear Mommy, come and get me

Even though an adoptee has no conscious memory of their natural mother, because the adoptee was there, because they did experience being “left” by their biological mother and handed over to strangers, it is becoming increasingly understood that there are wounds caused by what has happened to this child in separating them from their natural mother.

It makes no difference whether the child was a few minutes, a few days or even a few months old but still so young that they are pre-verbal.

An adoptee is always unconsciously aware that they were adopted.  An adoptee may feel as though they never belonged in their family, that they were never truly understood.  An adoptee may know they do not fit in but may not understand why.

Keeping an adoption secret does little to foster trust.  There is a subtle sense of unreality and dishonesty in the relationship.  Children are primarily creatures of intuition and sensation.

My mom always knew she had been adopted.  When I look at those last photos of her natural mother’s last visit with her, I see how happy she was to be reunited with her mother all over again (she had been left in temporary care at an orphanage in Memphis, while her mother tried to get on her feet financially).

Her adoptive mother admitted after the long train trip from Memphis Tennessee to Nogales Arizona that it “upset” my mother.  When she said the doctor had gotten my mom calmed down, I suspected she had been drugged with phenobarbital.