Events like National Adoption Awareness Month are created and used by the mega adoption industry to promote adoption. The media abounds with stories of the joy that adding children through adoption brings families. Less recognized, however, is the reality that even the happiest of adoptions are a result of tragedy and loss (not to mention exploitation and coercion).
For adoptees, however, adoption creates a complex matrix of gains and losses. Adopted men and women live with an acute awareness of the dichotomy, as eloquently expressed by adoptees like Korean-born Yoon:
... in order for me to gain my American family, both my Omma and my Appa had to lose a child. They had to lose a piece of themselves -- and I had to lose a part of myself... I acknowledge these losses no more and no less than I acknowledge the family and the life that I gained...
I appear to talk about the loss and grief to a greater extent, because it is this side of adoption that is so often neglected, rejected, ignored -- because it is the painful side. It is the side that no one likes to ponder or acknowledge. But one-sided thinking denies the very nature of what it means to live...
Understand that grieving what I have lost does not therefore mean I am regretting what I now have...
What I grieve over are the circumstances, the tragedies that transpired that made it necessary for me to have to be adopted. What I grieve over is the fact that my Korean mother felt trapped and forced into giving me away, when she wanted to keep me... that my biological father had no idea that I had been sent away to another country until it was too late. What I grieve over is the loss of my own flesh and blood.
The adoption industry spends millions each year hyping adoption as a "win-win" while for decades, adoptees who spoke their painful truths were marginalized, labelled "angry," "ungrateful," "disgruntled," or "anti-adoption." But adoption is no more limited to the delight of bringing a baby home than marriage is about the wedding day. Adopted babies grow up and there can be no adoption awareness, nor any intelligent, productive discourse about adoption, that does not include the voices of those adoption is intended to serve. It's important for those considering adopting to hear and understand what it feels like to be adopted, by adoptees like Laura Barcella:
As an adoptee (rhymes with "refugee" and "amputee"), being forsaken by my biological mom has burdened me, for as long as I can remember, with a sense of inborn exile -- a gaping hole where my identity should be."
Countless adoptee blogs capture the ambivalence and rage we can feel when confronted by the powerlessness of being given up by our first families. And make no mistake: Being sacrificed by one's mother, even for a seemingly altruistic purpose, is a form of trauma that can take a lifetime to heal.
Each adoptee, such as V. Marie from Louisiana, who articulates the pain and ambiguities of adoption, speaks for many:
My adoptive parents love me very much, but they weren't ready to deal with the challenges that came with an adopted child. They supported me my entire life, but they could not heal my pain... I have been fortunate to be welcomed by a handful of cousins. And although they have good intentions, they will never understand my loss and the pain I feel when I'm around them. I believe that adoption can [be] a wonderful thing, but we have to remember that it [isn't] without loss.
The issues adoptees deal with are perhaps best captured in the 80-minute documentary, Adopted, by Barb Lee in which Jennifer Fero, a Korean-born adoptee, now in her thirties, eloquently, and at times painfully, shares what it was like growing up not looking like family, classmates, or neighbors.
Jennifer describes the racism she endured that as a child, she was unable to verbalize. Her parents interpreted her silence as there being "no problem." Their silence, in turn, left her growing up feeling unprotected. Because it is only as adults that we can give voice to our childhood experiences, it is imperative that we include adoptees' hindsight and perspectives when formulating future practices and policies that regulate, and hopefully reform, the process.
The filmmaker intersperses Jennifer's poignant journey with a couple embarking on an adoption from China today. Through this lens, we witness the tearful joy of husband and wife learning about a child they could adopt and the early months of the child's life in their home. The couple describes the toddler's adjustment to her new surroundings, including day care, as seemingly easy. They exhibit an awareness of, and sensitivity to, the grieving of a child who has experienced a severe trauma coming into an entirely foreign culture all alone at such a young age.
Jennifer tenderly cares for her parents who are both facing terminal cancer. She demonstrates her love and loyalty while desperately trying to share her struggles and makes gut-wrenching attempts to engage her adoptive parents in dialogue about her roots.
Some of Jennifer's experiences are unique to international and interracial adoptees.
"International adoption creates involuntary immigrants," says AdopteeImmigrant. "Unlike the millions of others who cross borders during their lives, our migration is completely involuntary. It's not a choice we, or our families, make. Instead it's the adoption industry that dictates who stays in the countries we are born in and who is sent overseas."
Many issues Jennifer struggles with, however, equally impact domestic adoptees and make the film of great importance for all adoptive and prospective adoptive parents. And, it is now available free.
Jennifer Fero needed desperately to he heard and it is important for us to listen and hear all adoptees who want to be heard. As Yoon says, to admit the existence of the pain at the foundation of adoption is not focusing on the negative. Rather, "it is acknowledging the whole reality, the whole truth" about adoption.