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.

Why ?

Today’s story – I Never Wanted Boys

Husband’s first cousin and his girlfriend have, actually had – 5 children – 3 girls, 2 boys. They have custody of the 3 girls but both boys were placed for adoption because in her words “I never wanted boys”. We didn’t think she meant it, but she did.

She placed the first boy with a friend of hers and the other with my husband and I. She has no relationship with her first son but for the first 4 years of our son’s life, she and his sisters would see my adopted son, a few times a year at family functions. She would always tell him “Hello” and give him a hug, but that was the extent of her interaction with him.

When he turned 4, the couple, parents of these 5 children split up. That was now 2½ years ago. She doesn’t come to family functions anymore and turned down my suggestions, more than once, before blocking me completely for asking her to maintain some sort of relationship with the son that is in my care. He has always known she is his mother, and from birth until he was the age of 4, he was able to have some sort of relationship with his sisters. I’ve explained to her the importance of the children having a sibling relationship and bond. She does not agree with me that this is necessary.

My adopted son is now 6½ years old. His questions have started to be – “Why?” I don’t know what to say to him. The truth to me is harsh and I’ve always struggled with the thought that the day might come when I would have to tell him what her reasons were. Before all of this happened, I was for 100% transparency and truth as regards his adoption. But do I really tell him this?? Surely not this young!!? When he’s older? EVER?? I don’t want to add to his trauma.

One answer that came, really tore at my heart.

99% of the time I am for telling a 100% of the truth all the time – except for this situation. My brother and I are adopted. We have different genetic/biological families. Our story comes quite close to this one. My brother is an adult now. But at the age of 9, my adoptive mom told him – his mom treated him the way she did because he was a boy. Now that he is an adult, his original mother has admitted that is true. But being told this when he was 9, well, my brother was so confused and hurt that he self mutilated himself trying to become a girl. The best advice I can give in this situation is to seek an adoption trauma therapist to help you navigate the years ahead. I know such a rejection definitely messed with my brother’s self identity.

Foster Care Reality Check

Sadly, that Rose Garden we were NOT promised at birth is a nightmare for some children and their families. Today, in my all things adoption group that includes foster care former youth and related issues – this question was asked.

Foster Parents: What do you provide that biological families don’t? No specifics!

This was a balanced and complete perspective, I believe –

If the biological parents didn’t have to worry about finances, they would have been able to provide stable housing and access to food, which they were not able to provide. However beyond those two things, there is a lot the biological parents would not have been able to provide, even if given access to a stipend – emotional safety from emotional abuse – safety from physical and sexual abuse – access to mental health care, due to understanding and education, not due to lack of medical insurance or transportation – medical care for the same reason as above – appropriate attention to emotional needs, affection and secure attachment – a model for healthy adult behaviors (as in, an adult who does not actively impose sex onto children) – acceptance of LGBT status – home environment that caters to their emotional and mental health needs – access to extracurriculars that promote mental and physical health such as sports – space to develop individuality without fear of rejection. There are also things the biological parents can provide that a foster parent will never be able to provide: a genetic mirror – the comfort of being in a “normal” family – never having to explain one’s adoption status / history, awkward conversations one can be forced into – insecurities a foster child or adoptee may feel if the parent has or conceives biological kids at some later date – not feeling like one is a charity case or having to feel like they are required to be insanely grateful all the time – missing their biological parents is a really big issue, regardless of any history they caused the removal from those parents – grieving a loss that the foster parent will never be able to fill for that child.

And there was push-back on this and other similar responses – “I can tell you all are foster parents…so many child protective services buzz words…security, safety, stability etc…I know the original poster asked for no specifics ,so you don’t have to tell me, but you all should be questioning whether you provide anything actually concrete or are you blowing sunshine up the behind by inflating what you offer ?”

Foster care is troublesome as is the reason it exists. This is enough from me today.

One Can Only Do So Much

A woman writes –

I have a teen in my care for whom reunification is not an option. One parent was not able to parent and has recently left the country. The other parent is an offender. No other bio family in this country. I am fictive kin, case plan is adoption. My foster son is 15 and has started to express feelings like this home is not his and never will be. He feels like an outsider, etc. Home is just myself and my two children, who are biological siblings. I have validated his feelings, reinforced that its OK to miss Mom and want Mom, acknowledged that this situation is not ideal, etc. There are plans to visit Mom abroad in the future. I expressed that its OK to feel this way, but that he is wanted, welcomed and loved in this home and that there will always be a place for him here.

Is there anything else I can be doing? I don’t want to minimize or ignore the fact that he wants to be with his mom and that this whole scenario isn’t what he wants, but I also don’t want him to never feel like he can settle in and get comfortable. This is his home, he’s been here for well over a year, how can I help him feel at home? I just finished re-doing his room and making it really nice and really reflective of him, but I think that just added to his feelings because having a really nice room is such a stark contrast to what his reality used to be. He’s in therapy, what else can I be doing?

Going to live with mom would not be in his best interest. He has mental health concerns as a result of the abuse and neglect that occurred with his mom due to issues out of her control. She is now being cared for by her family. In the country of origin, there would be issues of poverty, education and opportunity. He would not be able to get an education and would be put to work instead.

Some of the responses –

Maybe he is afraid of losing his connection to his mother if this begins to feel like “home”? I would reinforce his feeling of ambivalence as being normal in a very ambivalent situation.

Do you have a hallway where you hang family pictures? Hanging pictures of his mom might be good – and if you don’t have this sort of thing yet, you could have him help pick out photos, frames, a fresh wall color, or piece of furniture to put the frames on.

Adoptees will never feel like they are home. You can’t force or foster that feeling. Home is mom. And when mom won’t be home, there will never be home again. This is an entirely emotional thing he’s expressing. An emotional emptiness, a hole which cannot be filled. In my case, I now don’t really even feel home with my natural family. We lost too much time. Once the connection is severed, it’s severed. You can build a new bond, but you can never have back what you lost. What he does need is therapy with someone who is an adoptee. Anything else will not do.

The original woman admits – I struggle with wanting to “fix” everything – I know that I can’t. I want him to feel comfortable and at home but this is the ugly side of adoption and its possible he may never feel at home anywhere and will always be “homesick” no matter where he goes. Its heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing.

The previous woman added – As adoptees we struggle a LOT with what we should or shouldn’t feel. He “should” feel at home with someone who cares so much, but he doesn’t. He “shouldn’t” miss someone who abused and neglected him, but he does. All of this makes us feel even more wrong and broken. I can’t stress enough the importance of an adoptee therapist to help him work through the complexities of those feelings! It must be an adoptee, no one else can even begin to understand – and this is the very basis of what we need: someone to understand that we are suffering something so unnatural it literally doesn’t happen anywhere else in nature, and we’re expected just to acclimate. We need to talk about it, over and over and over, to someone who understands, so that someday it won’t hurt so much.

Another suggestions was to connect him with other people from his country. It won’t help the loss of mom but might help with feeling connected to his culture.

Finally these words of wisdom – You can’t fix him. This is a really an adoptive parent issue because it’s hard to parent a child when you can’t help them, fix what hurts them. Acknowledging this and knowing you are never going to be enough is key. You have done several things right seeing that he is able to verbalize to you how he feels about you and his mom. That’s a really positive thing for an adoptee to feel safe to do that.

It’s going to take time. He is grieving. He is confused. I am sure he feels conflicted and guilty. Let him connect with other kids and adults from his exact culture. That will help him feel a connection to mom and his extended family. Try to leave “but” out of the conversations. “It’s ok to miss mom but you’re welcome and loved” leave that out and just keep validating his feelings.

Ask if there is anything you can do different for him. Just let him continue to express his feelings, get him in therapy with a adoption competent therapist and just walk beside him no matter what he says or does. You’ve mentioned education and opportunity a few times. Please do not assume this is the better life for him due to his country of origin being poverty, lack of education and opportunity. Those things are things YOU think are important for someone, but he may not. Being taken from your culture, your family, it’s pretty hard to think you are getting a better life. Education and opportunity is what America pushes. To assume that makes someone happy and/or successful is inaccurate. Many people living different lives from us are happy and deem themselves successful. It is not for us to judge what’s better.

Two Adoption Related Fantasies

I really wasn’t in the mood to write during my daily session at my deceased in-laws cabin.  I suppose it is the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg last night that has me de-motivated and distracted.

I thought – how to honor her life then.  I remembered seeing “STEINEM” in large letters at the top of the spine on a book in my mother-in-law’s bookcase.  I was aware of her as a feminist when I was coming of age in the early 1970s.  My mother in law was a lifelong feminist.  So I thought, I won’t try to write, I’ll just read a little today.

I chose the essay – Ruth’s Song (Because She Could Not Sing It) – because.  It should be obvious why.  I read this –

My ultimate protection was this: I was just passing through, a guest in the house; perhaps this wasn’t my mother at all. Though I knew very well that I was her daughter, I sometimes imagined that I had bee adopted and that my real parents would find me, a fantasy I’ve since discovered is common.

~Gloria Steinem, from her book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions

It is common for adoptees to have fantasies about their natural mother finding them.  My mom wanted to find her mother but when she got the tiniest bit close to that goal, she was told that her mother had died a few years earlier.

Much of this essay is about Steinem’s mother’s mental illness.  I can relate.  My youngest sister is seriously mentally ill.  And my mom had this obsession that each of her daughters was mentally ill.  We each ended up in an institution at least briefly.  I was dragged in by my dad for observation.  After about 3 days, I was released as I was not a threat to anyone except perhaps my own self.  My parents were never willing to financially invest in mental health care for their children, even when it was warranted.

I also know my mom once seriously thought about committing suicide.  I don’t know what the trigger was but she changed her mind because she actually did care about her daughters.  At least, that was what she told me.

Adoption can have a psychological toll.  It is known that adopted children are more likely to struggle with emotional or behavioral disorders ranging from depression, anxiety, and ADHD to suicidal thoughts and substance abuse.

Adoption is the difficult process of gaining a child by removing him or her from another family.  There is trauma associated with separating a child from the mother in whose womb the baby developed.  Children are commonly unable to vocalize or even identify what they are feeling and so it is unlikely they will ask for help.

Symptoms of mental illness in children can be difficult to identify. Signs of emotional or behavioral disorders, like outbursts and sleep issues, are common in many stages of development without adoption as an added issue.  As a parent, pay attention to age-inappropriate emotional responses, as well as symptoms that last longer than normal or don’t improve regardless of continued efforts.  Seek professional help.

 

Dissociative Identity Disorder

Another adoptee told story –

I have known since I was 3 that I was adopted. My adopted mom and I were extremely close and she never hid anything from me (that I know of) and always answered my questions about my bio mom and bio family.

I’ve met my bio mom twice, over two days, in less than ideal circumstances, over 10 years ago now. I have sorta tried to forge a relationship with her (especially after my adopted mom passed away) but each time I pull back afraid of it and chicken out. We are friends on Facebook. My bio mom grew up in foster care and doesn’t know her own family outside of her siblings (who I know nothing about.) My bio dad was killed when I was still REALLY young.

I don’t have any family other than my bio mom (who I have yet to forge a relationship with) and my adopted family (which really is only my adopted dad), my adopted siblings are trash, who make it very clear they are bio related and I’m “just adopted.”

I’ve been dealing with A LOT of issues since becoming a teenager, issues no one could ever figure out cuz I didn’t have an abusive childhood or anything. No one, not a single person, until I was 30 years old, ever connected my issues with adoption. Not a single one. In fact, if it was brought up, it was dismissed just as quickly cuz I was adopted at birth, so surely I couldn’t be suffering any separation trauma, my bio mom never even held me, so I couldn’t possibly ever have any trauma from being separated from her. (I’ve had doctor’s literally say that.)

At 30, after almost killing myself during the height of my own Pregnancy and Postpartum Depression, I finally wound up with a therapist that saw it. She saw what no one else had seen. It was the first session with her, and I won’t forget what she said, ever: “it’s not at all surprising you are dealing with these feelings and emotions from giving birth, many adoptees experience extreme emotional distress when they give birth. It’s normal.” (I also had the compounding factor of my adopted mom, who again, I was super close with, passing away 2 weeks to the day before I gave birth.)

I have been diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder but my doctor’s were resistant to the diagnosis for a while since I didn’t have any early-childhood abuse. Now I’m wondering if the “abuse” they were looking for was there, they just didn’t see it as adoption trauma.

YES – adoption causes real trauma as well as lifelong mental and emotional challenges.  That is why so many with any background in adoption are working towards some major reforms.

Being Charitable

What are you actually saying to your adopted child as an adoptive parent about what your motives were ?  There are cases – I suppose – like true orphans.  However, among the thoughts about reforming adoption in general, instead of buying a baby to raise as your own, is the radical idea of helping the mother in danger of losing her child.  Her crime may simply be lacking the financial means to raise that child.

Clearly, if you can plunk out tens of thousands of dollars to obtain another woman’s baby, you could go very far in your ability to charitably help keep a baby and mother together.  Sadly that is not the kind of thinking that motivates most adoptive couples.  Most are self-absorbed, only thinking about what it is they desire, and rarely considering the emotional price and mental anguish someone else (and often more than one someone else – the original mother, the adoptee, any subsequent siblings) will have to bear for you to fulfill your personal desire.

You will be held accountable for every decision you make regarding adoption.

Don’t you think your adoptees will have enough sense to realize that in 9 out of 10 cases you could have helped their parents keep them vs adopting them ? Do you think you’ll never be asked this question or held accountable ? In cases where infertility was the reason for adopting (as most cases actually are), don’t you think these children will have enough sense to realize they were your second choice ?

It is still a rather new perspective and some adoptive parents have been able to own the facts and own their culpability in the messed up institution of adoption.  What is done is done but things could be done better going into the future and that is why the idea of raising awareness and talking about ways that would be more life and family affirming is happening now.

If you do want to understand adoption trauma, then here it is – I have seen this for myself in an adoption triad group with thousands of members (all 3 sides of the adoption equation) – there really are a lot of very angry adoptees.  Ask yourself, why is that, if adoption is such a perfect answer to everyone’s problems ?

For adoptees unfortunate enough to have been the victim of a shady adoption, the truth will probably come out in this modern day and time (much of that kind of story did not come out during Georgia Tann’s illicit 3 decades long scandal from the 1920s up until 1950).  There will be damage that you (as an adoptee) may or may not ever be able to repair.  The damage is deep – and comes out in bits and pieces – and in ways that are not always obviously related to the adoption directly.