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.

Thinking About Adopting ?

A woman writes in my all things adoption group –

I’m not sure anyone cares about validation but I guess the administrators can decide. I just wanted to say thank you. I joined the group like many do, I was interested in adoption and really just putting a toe in the water. I waited my read only period. I went through the “wtf are these people talking about, anyone who adopts is a Saint”. Then I went through the “uh oh, is everything I know about the world even right?” Then I went through trying to explain this to my husband which didn’t go well. I’m getting ready to leave the group. Adoption is completely off the table and I’ve set up time to volunteer at my local teen pregnancy center.

Being a human is a wild thing. Thanks for being vulnerable and doing emotional labor. You really are impacting the world.

Edited to Add: I’ll gladly stay! I hadn’t thought about it but would be happy to stay and help where I can.

She was not the only one, soon others were chiming in. The one below was NOT the only one to express similar sentiments. This is also why I write this blog because I can reach others not in such a group or with such aspirations but who are uninformed about adoption trauma.

I was a Former Hopeful Foster-Adoptive Parent because of white saviorism. This group opened my eyes on so many fronts – I honestly feel like I see the whole world differently. I’ve learned so much about racism, classism, and ableism. The adoptees and former foster youth who share their stories are the smartest wisest people I’ve had the privilege of listening to. I am immensely thankful you allow people not in the triad to be transformed by this group. I have completely changed my behavior in the real world. I will never again speak about adoption as anything other than trauma. I talk to my friends also interested in foster care about why the child welfare system needs to be abolished and rebuilt, not changed from the inside bullshit. I can’t believe at one time I was willing to provide my home to a child in need but not the resources to their family so they could stay together. I find that incredibly effed up now. I am working on my CASA training so I can help get kids back home and prevent unnecessary adoption from foster care.

The Rev Keith C Griffiths (deceased adoption scholar and activist) quote exploded my brain: “Adoption loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful.”

And Paul Sunderland’s theory about developmental trauma caused by a newborn being separated from their birth mother. The trauma of not growing up with genetic mirrors, not knowing one’s medical history or having legally falsified identity documents. I had no idea about these things because I had never centered adoptees’ experiences in my perspectives. This group has truly transformed my outlook on the world !

You Don’t Want To Parent, What To Do ?

An acquaintance is pregnant and you know they absolutely don’t want to parent that child after it is born but abortion is not option for your acquaintance. As an adoption trauma informed person, what do you suggest to this person ?

Note – decisions about pregnancy can be really complex. All-Options Talkline may be a resource – (888) 493-0092.

Deciding to not parent seems easy because of what our society has ingrained in us, but the reality is birth mothers hurt deeply their whole lives from making that decision, whether they are conscious of it or not. The same with the child, it sounds so easy to adopt out a baby because “they won’t even know” but in fact they have trauma their whole life, whether they are conscious of it or not.

For those pro-Adoption people who are also Pro-Life and believe that outlawing abortion will yield more babies for you to adopt – I have some bad news. According to The Turnaway Study, 91% women who were denied wanted abortions didn’t choose adoption. The vast majority parented their child. 

And the fact is – abortion is safer than common procedures like tonsillectomy and wisdom tooth removal. And it’s certainly much safer than going through childbirth. Far more adoptees than one would think will say “I would rather have been aborted than adopted.” 90% of American women who have abortions have them in the first trimester. I am one of those. I had an abortion in the later 1970s – after already having given birth to a daughter. At the time, she was being raised by her father and a step-mother.

In the study there was an association between abortion and mental health. But it was exactly opposite to what has been said in the popular media. It’s not that receiving an abortion was associated with worse mental health, but in the short run, being denied the abortion was – so higher anxiety, lower self-esteem, lower life satisfaction. For up until the first six months, the women who were denied fared worse. They were forced to come to terms with the fact that they were about to have a baby that they had previously felt that they weren’t able to take care of. 

What are the actual implications of giving up a living, breathing child to adoption ? Adoption is not death, but it is LOSS. The grief and trauma are life long. Birthparents cannot ever escape it. Naming that child? Loving that child? Losing that child? Living the rest of their life without their child? From a birth mother – My son is 11 years old and I have never heard him speak. I don’t know what his voice sounds like. I barely know anything about him, and it all comes through a filter. Is what his APs say actually true? I don’t know. I genuinely have no way to know if my son is being loved and cared for the way he deserves. It’s honestly terrifying. It is definitely more difficult to know the child is still out there. It’s an ambiguous grief that’s hard to understand or explain.

So the answer could be kinship! Why doesn’t anyone ever think, oh yeah, this child has family on the paternal and maternal side? At least, adoptees can then stay in their genetic family. Most adult adoptees will tell you it is better than being given to strangers to be raised. It also allows the mother time to change her perspective on parenting, have lifestyle or relationship changes while remaining in her child’s life.

In fact, I talked to an adoptee recently who didn’t know she was adopted until she was in her 30s. Attempting reunions with her birth parents yielded a mother who wasn’t interested in trying to forge a relationship but on the father’s side – it turned out that there was a paternal grandparent who did want to parent her but the birth mother had blocked it.

At least family members on either side are genetic mirrors for the child to grow up around as well as the ability to hear family stories as they are passed down. History and heritage – both matter. I know. I didn’t have either until after my adoptee parents had died and I began the search to know who my original grandparents were. Not only did I learn about my cultural heritage but I’ve been given priceless family history stories and digital photos that add value to my new sense of wholeness. That real sense of wholeness was not acquired until I was over 60 years old.

A Belief That Enables

When you make a decision, you make that decision consciously for only 5% maximum, the rest of your decision (95%) is controlled by your subconscious mind. The decision to adopt a child is conscious but there are subconscious factors below that which are influencing or will influence your experience as an adoptive parent. Some couples adopt for the same reason some couples decide to have a biological child – in order to save a marriage by bonding it with a child. Of course, the couples who adopt generally have other factors – most especially an experience with infertility and failed attempts at using reproductive medical assistance to have a child biologically. In other words, many adoptions actually start out on shaky ground to begin with.

So today, I came across something else that is more than a little bit disturbing. I hasten to add a trigger warning at this point for anyone for whom child abuse discussions might be too emotionally upsetting to continue. Having done my due diligence in this regard – you can proceed reading or leave this blog warned and saved the painful recollections.

It is sometimes asked – Why did they adopt just to abuse them. There is an assumption that adoptive parents wouldn’t abuse their adopted children because they went to so much effort to adopt them. All parents are capable of some degree of abuse – even with a great deal of love and often from ignorance or poor examples growing up. Therefore, it is dangerous to put any adoptive parent on a pedestal because sometimes adoptees are abused. It is a sad fact – and sad anytime any child is severely abused by any adult person for that matter. When the abuse starts… the people around them often say: well, those kids are very troubled and acting out. The adoptive parents are doing the best they can. Who can really blame them for doing what they have to do in order to control that child ?

One reason that it doesn’t shock or confuse me that some adoptive parents might harm their adoptees is that I have become aware of how common a trait of narcissism is among adoptive parents. Wanting a child doesn’t mean you’re going to treat them well. Adoption is inherently a selfish act – regardless of what you believe is motivating you. An adoptive parent may expect their adopted child to be compliant with any of their expectations or demands. That parent may lash out at their adoptee when they don’t meet those. Adoptive parents are not exempt from having anger issues and abusive tendencies.

Sometimes this abuse doesn’t begin immediately but when that cute baby becomes a rebellious teen. One adoptee shared her example – my adoptive mother actually said to me when I was 7 yrs old – “We wanted a baby, and you’re not a baby anymore.” That is how she explained they were going to adopt a baby boy.

Abuse is about possession and control. And in a weird, twisted kind of logic many abusers don’t actually think are they abusive. An abusive narcissistic parent may think they are a really good one. Being abusive goes against the savior narrative that so many adoptive parents have accepted as their reason for adopting. Adoption seems to be a process that attracts people who need to feel good about themselves. And once they’ve completed the adoption, they feel effectively immune from criticism because, after all, it was such a “selfless” act to rescue a child in need.

People adopt simply because they want kids. However, they may not actually have any idea of how to raise those children, once they have achieved that primary goal. These kinds of adoptive parents may have difficulty accepting that the child they adopted is an individually separate person with ideas of their own, desires, wants, and needs that do not necessary mirror the adoptive parent. In fact, often don’t While nurturing plays a role in the kind of person we each become – adoptee reunions with their birth parents after they reach maturity often prove – there is more to the genetic influences than many in the adoption industry want society to believe.

Another example comes from an adoptee with an emotionally immature mother – “She wasn’t able to have children and I think she thought a child would fix her. I was adopted at birth. I believe she thought I’d be a mini version of her but when I had my own emotions and interests, she couldn’t handle it. In came the weird emotional games.” It is way too common for adoptive parents to adopt a baby as a way to fix their own issues. It never works that way.

The abuse somehow feeds into these adoptive parents’ need to feel like they are doing something good. They are a “strong” parent and showing these troubled kids “tough love.” And then, there’s always the go-to excuse so many adoptees have hard – They should be grateful. They could have it so much worse. Never say to an adoptee sharing their experience something like – Just because you were abused by your adoptive parents, that’s why you hate adoption. Or sorry you had a bad experience. An experience sounds like a short term event. Adoption is lifelong.

Dismissing any adoptees’ discontent and trauma is victim blaming, also called gaslighting. It is an attempt to control the adoptees’ story in order not to break their happy, little “adoption is rainbows and butterflies” illusion.

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.

Against The Odds

A little over 20 years ago, after 10 years of marriage, my husband decided he wanted to become a father after all. True, he had been glad I had already given birth to a daughter, so there was no pressure on him because I had already been there, done that. Imagine my surprise when over a couple of Margaritas at a Mexican restaurant, he told me “I’ve been thinking” and my mouth actually dropped open in utter amazement. When I recovered from my own shock, I said OK.

We had seen a news clip that women who conceive at an older age live longer. I was 44 years old at the time. My GPs nurse practitioner during a counseling session over my cholesterol levels learned I was trying to conceive (we’d been doing all the usual things – timing intercourse, ovulation predictors and pregnancy tests – to no avail). She said to me, “I’m not saying you are infertile but at your age, you have no time to waste” and referred me to her own fertility specialist who was also an OB.

The night before our appointment, we saw another news clip that indicated my chances of conceiving were technically zero due to my age. I remember going to the place alongside the perennial stream that flows past our house to the gravel bar where I married my husband. Hugging our witness tree, I cried because my husband married a woman too old to give him what he was now wanting.

At the doctor’s office, we saw the very last egg in my ovary on ultrasound. The doctor gave us some kind of shot to give it a boost but it failed to produce a pregnancy. While we were there, he said to us – there is another way – and described donor egg technology to us. We utilized a website for matching couples with women volunteering to donate their fertile eggs. We selected one that my husband noted, one of her answers matched my own philosophies in life. She turned out to be a good choice. A mother with 3 children already of her own. She has donated to at least one other couple we know of but we do not know the outcome of that effort for not all assisted reproductive technology efforts succeed. In my online cycle group, only about 50% did.

The doctor in the town our donor was living in at that time did 4 procedures that year with only one success – ours.

Having now learned about the way an infant bonds with its mother in the womb, I’m grateful we rejected adoption as our means to becoming parents. Our donor subsequently donated a second time to help us conceive our second son. Therefore, our two sons are fully genetically and biologically the same – and yet very different people. They have their natural father as a mirror as well. Each of them is some part but not wholly the same as their dad. I marvel that I must love my husband a lot to want 3 of him – though of course, as I just acknowledged that is not 100% the truth.

At some point I became aware of a woman in my Mothers Via Egg Donation online support community who was researching a book. It is titled Creating Life Against The Odds – The Journey From Infertility To Parenthood. The author is Ilona Laszlo Higgins MD FACOG. For contributing our experience to her research, I was given a signed copy of her book. She wrote in the title page – “To Deborah and Stephen who undertook this special journey to bring Simeon and Treston into their lives! With love, Lonny”

Today, my oldest son celebrates his 20th birthday. I have referred to him as my savior because it was in trying to conceive him that I discovered I was positive for hepatitis C. Otherwise, I may have destroyed my liver without ever knowing this virus was there by drinking too many alcoholic based drinks. I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since learning about it.

I had to fight with the doctors at the hospital where my c-section took place 20 years ago today to be allowed to breastfeed my son. The lactation consultants there came to my defense. I nursed him for over a year (and at 18 months, each boy tested negative for the hepC virus). When he was about 3 months old, we embarked on a long journey that eventually caused us to traverse through about half of these United States in the Eastern part of the continent. I nursed him in public everywhere we went and to be honest, I had the right kind of clothes to do so with subtlety.

I share all of this to encourage women struggling with any kind of infertility to consider this method. Your baby will be born to the woman in who’s womb the baby grew, who’s heartbeat and internal processes has been the background noise of its development, who’s voice the baby has always known. This is all every baby that is born desires in life – to be with its natural mother. My sons do not have my genes but in every other way, no other person is more their mother than I am.

Not long ago, I read an essay by a woman with a great attitude. She was donor conceived. She accepts that she would simply not be who and how she is any other way. It is my hope that my sons will also understand their origins with that clarity of acceptance. It isn’t all that different than my own self understanding that if both of my parents had not been given up for adoption, I would not exist.

Sometimes the honest truth is the best. We have always been truthful with our sons without making a big issue about their conception. With the advent of inexpensive DNA testing, I’m glad we chose the path often referred to in donor conception support groups as “tell”. Their donor did 23 and Me. Then, I gifted my husband with a kit, then my oldest son with a kit and finally my youngest son with a kit. The youngest one was only slightly disappointed that he didn’t have any of my genes. But I am still “Mom” to him and we remain very close at heart – where it truly does matter.