Dear Adoption, You Are Not a Pathology
You do not need to be cured, fixed, dismissed, or exorcised into extinction. For years I have walked alongside those directly impacted by your presence (myself included)—and I have learned so much about you, yet you are still an anomaly. Historically, professionals, researchers, and parents have attempted to define what you are and what you should mean to me. Rather than acknowledging how individualized and nuanced you are through the varying perspectives of those who are adopted, too often you are reduced to absolutes, simplistic memes, and meager sound bites. When that happens, I genuinely feel for you too. It never feels good when others negatively associate or overly simplify you. When I do not describe you in another that what society has traditionally defined you or choose to dialectically call out long-held practices that have exploited your intentions, I have heard others disparage you when comments such as, “It’s your adoption issues”, “You sound like one of those angry adoptees”, or “These issues must be due to adoption” are used against me. I refuse to make the broad assumption that your countenance alone equates all that I am. You are part of me, but not all of me. The intersectionality of my life is as diverse as my thoughts and opinions pertaining to your very existence. I need others to respect this construct, too–as I continually make sense of it all. Protectively, I feared the “angry adoptee” or ungrateful label while we found our voice together, but now I view those denigrating sentiments, traditionally used to silence, as a badge of courage. I did not want to be inadvertently diagnosed with attachment disorders or mental health issues based solely upon adoption-status by others so I placated so the pangs of possible rejection would not sting too badly. My relationship with my adoptive and birth family have even been questioned in relation to my “happiness” and personalized thoughts about adoption, but my relationship with my family is private and can be mutually exclusive to my experiences with you. My understanding of you is not linear, but cyclical–and with every new life experience, every new client who has been captivated and captive of you, the definition of you evolves.
There are times you are too much, too confusing, or too real for others–including myself. I attempted to resolve your conflictual presence by pretending that you did not exist as a child into young adulthood—and it appeared to work for a while. The reality is that I needed you to reside just underneath the surface of my collective consciousness to allow me to move about my day-to-day so I could go to school, parent my children, and successfully complete my daily activities with a sense of normality, health, and stability. Over the years, your awakening was titrated because you knew that too much would have overwhelmed my psyche and heart. There will be moments when you have unequivocally communicated your intentions, but most of the time it is quiet and steady. As I find words that define us, I can better tell you (and myself) what is going on between my heart, mind, and how it affects my actions–until then be patient. These moments include my children’s birth, when my adoptive father passed away, or the search for my birth sisters. The thing is just when I thought I had mastered our time together–the fear of abandonment, the fear of not being enough, and the fear of success, you can bring me back to the starting line to regain my bearings. You always had a way of renegotiating where we stood. I have learned that when you are rushed or denied, there will always be a reckoning. We must be reckoned together so that we can move forward more holistically.
As complicated as it is to admit, I need you. You are an integral and necessary part of my life. I never asked you to be included, but here you are. Thus, on behalf of my children and the next generation of adoptees, I bravely choose to come to terms with all that you mean to me. You have taught me how to more effectively confront complex truths in a more genuine and tangible way. You have helped me find comfort in tension. You have taught me how to view things through a broader perspective–and that has created a place of deeper compassion, insight, and kindness when I engage with others. Just like any intimate relationship, I can defend you while simultaneously critiquing you, but this is on my terms and time line. No longer will I allow anyone else to disparage or define you for me. I don’t always like you, nor do I have to fully appreciate or embrace the things you attempt to impart in my life, but I accept that our relationship is complicated. You are not meant to be resolved, but intentionally integrated into my conscious, daily life. Equally, I am solely responsible for what I do with our relationship. I have learned to ask and receive help because you are so richly layered that guidance and support are critical to my growth and understanding. It no longer means that everyone must “get it”, but now I can choose to invite those who are patient, curious, loving, and trustworthy along this journey.
Melanie Chung-Sherman, LCSW-S, CTS, LCPAA, PLLC has worked in the field of child welfare since 1999. She is a licensed therapist who works with all triad members throughout the lifespan. She and her younger brother were adopted from South Korea and raised in the United States. Her passion is bringing education, advocacy, and awareness to the complex issues surrounding adoption and foster care–and giving voice to all members of the triad. You can follow Melanie’s work on Facebook while her website undergoes construction.