Last Monday was my adoption day, which got me thinking about what adoption means to me. I’ve been trying to write a blog post about my family and adoption for a week now, but I’ve only been able to write in short spurts because it keeps making my cry. If you know me well, you know that I don’t cry very often, so that should tell you that you may also need some tissues by the end of this blog post too. I’ll give you a second to go and get them.
There was never a dramatic moment in my life in which my mom and dad sat me down and surprised me with the news that I am adopted, like you see in cheesy Lifetime movies. Adoption was not something to hide like a stain on the carpet of a beautiful life. It was something to celebrate. It was a badge of pride.
Still, it’s strange to me that something that is so normal and integral to the fabric of my (and my family’s) existence is so foreign in our seemingly progressive society. I’ve always felt the need to explain, to speak up for adoptive families and adoptees alike, to defend our legitimacy. You see, there are a lot of people who think they know something about adoption, and that “thing” they know is often something negative, something small — a distorted image through a dirty window. But, they’re wrong.
Here’s reality at both its best and its most challenging:
Adoption is complex.
Like the tiger who nurses a piglet or the goat and horse who play together all day, adoption can’t be explained by simple biology. It defies conventional reason that a person would willingly — excitedly, passionately — take in and rear someone else’s offspring as his or her own. Many people can’t look past the old adage that blood is thicker than water, but they’ve missed a fundamental truth that every adoptive family, blended family, and non-traditional family knows: families aren’t built on biology. Families are built on love.
However, adoption introduces a web of incredibly complex relationships: parent-child, adopted sibling-adopted sibling, adopted sibling-biological sibling, child-birth parent, child-birth parent, adoptive parent-birth parent. The permutations are endless.
Each relationship is gossamer-fragile and constantly under scrutiny from both the outside world and from within. When my birthmom and I first started getting to know each other, we didn’t know how to introduce each other to our friends and acquaintances. Friend? Mother? Daughter? Birthmother? Finally, we decided that for better or worse, we were going to be straightforward.
Still, second-guessing is second nature. Have you crossed a boundary? Said too much? Not said enough? Navigating these relationships is walking through mine-field of potentially hurt feelings and insecurities. I worried about my parents’ and siblings’ feelings when I met my birthmom for the first time. I worried about my birthfamily’s feelings when they came out to the West Coast for my wedding. When my wedding photographer didn’t get a single picture of me with my entire family together, despite specific instructions, I was crushed.
But (and what a redemptive but this is!), this confusing web of relationships can also be breathtakingly beautiful.
There is a Chinese proverb talks about an invisible thread connecting those who are destined to meet. God ties this thread between us — parent, birthparent, child, sibling — and it is up to us to bravely weave it into a tapestry reflective of our intentional love for each other.
I’ll never forget my little sister’s adoption day: we had received her referral picture several months prior, and I had studied her fuzzy shock of black hair, her tiny button nose, and her sweet rosebud lips for hours. On the day of her arrival, we stood impatiently just outside of airport customs with another family who was also waiting for their daughter to arrive from Korea. When the social workers started walking towards us in the airport with two chubby babies bundled almost to the point of anonymity in all their worldly possessions, I felt the unmistakable tug of that invisible thread. I pointed to Anna and announced, “That’s her!”
“Are you sure?” My mom asked.
“Of course. I think I’d know my own sister.”
Under a microscope, adoption may be confusing, but — adopted or not — sisters are sisters.
Adoption is gutsy.
At its core, adoption is a fundamentally optimistic, incredibly gutsy proposition. My birthmom was 15 when she got pregnant with me. Put yourself in her shoes. Imagine the stares in the hallway at school, the snide remarks whispered in the grocery store check-out line, the constant feeling of judgment. She could have taken an easier way out, but she stubbornly — defiantly — believed in the goodness of strangers and a better life for me. She bravely risked reputation and comfort to bring me into the world. Her gutsy optimism didn’t stop there: once I was born, she had to undergo the separation and grieving process. I had been part of her for 9 months, and then I wasn’t. I’m lucky. I don’t remember that transition. Subjecting oneself knowingly to something that painful has to be the very definition of courage.
On the other side of the coin, adoptive parents bravely step out in faith that somehow potentially incongruent pieces will create a harmonious family portrait. They battle ever-increasing red tape, mountains of paperwork, and significant financial sacrifice — and that’s only to get their children home. Once that monumental feat is accomplished, there is the matter of familial assimilation and potential psychological trauma. In many cases, they don’t know their child’s medical history. They inherit behavior challenges: separation anxiety, failure to thrive, PTSD. They inherit genetic dispositions fundamentally different from their own.
But we forge on. Despite obstacles, we bravely choose to be family. My siblings and parents and I are vastly different from each other in temperament, interests, and looks. We choose to connect ourselves to each other, despite inherent differences. We throw our challenges, our brokenness, our love into the fire, knowing that by faith, persistence, and bravery, love tested by fire produces a bond that can withstand the fiercest pressure. It’s no wonder that some of the strongest and most resilient families I know are adoptive families.
Adoption is not less legitimate.
Adoptive families may look different, with our mosaic of different colored faces. We may not share the same nose or eyes or laugh or interests. That doesn’t diminish the legitimacy of our family. Unfortunately, although most people might agree with that intellectually, but bear with me for a moment.
How many times have you heard a joke made at the expense of an adopted kid? You might not even notice them any more because they’re so pervasive. The old “I-don’t-belong-in-this-family; I must be adopted” shtick has been a plot line for many a TV sitcom and movie. Remarks about a person being just the “adoptive parents” of a child diminishes the parent-child relationship. Adoptive parents are parents. Period. Adopted children are children. Period.
I think these underhanded jokes stem from the old myth out that adopted kids aren’t wanted. Really? Then, explain to me the emotional and financial sacrifice, both on the part of a birthparent and the part of a parent. Explain to me the months — even years — spent waiting for paperwork to clear and visas to be approved. Explain to me the tears in a mother’s eyes when the judge finally decrees that the child she loves is finally legally hers.
Make no mistake: we’re the most wanted people alive.
But, still there are more. There are thousands upon thousands of children waiting for forever families in our foster care system, as well as millions of orphans around the world. There’s no sugarcoating it: adoption is hard work for everyone involved, but it is so, so, so worth it.
To all my family — both adoptive and biological — I love you more than my stumbling words can say.
Copyright Best Coast Living, 2015. May not be reproduced without permission of author.
Washi tape clip art by Teacher Karma.