gallery Dear Adoption, I Am Finally Ready to Face You – The Real You, The Darker You

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Dear Adoption, I Am Finally Ready to Face You – The Real You, The Darker You

You are not exactly honest all the time. You are not who you say you are. Your meaning changes depending on who defines you, and to what audience. In my mind, I liken you to the moon; only ever showing one face to the Earth while the far side is perpetually hidden from sight. You are careful to only be cast in the best light to all who gaze upon you. Like the moon, your brighter side often becomes your defining side. However, to ignore the existence of you in your entirety is to ignore reality.

To many, you have proven to be a corrupt and broken system, but no one likes to talk about that. In some cases, you are a cunning cash exchange posing as altruism. Because of you, some are plucked from the frying pan and put into the fire. Because of you, some not only deal emotionally with having been unwanted, but endure further emotional abuse by those who claimed to want them. Because of you, some are beaten to death by the very people who had sworn to protect them. Because you have made such a mess of life, some consider not living life at all. Just because you have been a hero to some, does not warrant the world to shut its eyes to what you do behind closed doors. There are no blanket statements or one-size-fits-all sentiments that can encompass your duplicitous nature. You can be one thing to someone, but something entirely different to someone else. That is why no one can speak for an adoptee except the adoptee, not even another adoptee. We may share your common ground, but we each have a story that is distinct, complicated, and nuanced. No one should have to feel like they need to fit a mold of a “healthy outlook” based solely off of another adoptee’s “positive experience.” We each have a voice, uniquely ours, that should never be silenced. To only acknowledge your more palatable side, is to invalidate all who have suffered at your hand. You “knowing best” paints the picture of a win-win, when in reality, someone always has to lose. You are a zero-sum game and I am tired of being on the losing side, and then feeling silenced or shamed for the pain of that loss. Those who think that all relevant parties have only gained from your dealings may have to examine the lens which they use to view you.

Both your dark and light side are an ever present reality. You are a bittersweet paradox. You are both a cornerstone of my identity and, simultaneously, the source of mystery around my identity. You are the veil between where I stand and what I have longed to know, yet what I am afraid to find out. You are the cause of so much pain and loss, but also of victory and joy.

I know you by your less popular name and function: abandonment. Before I gained a family, I had to lose one. You handed me one identity while you hid the other, like a city built atop ruins. You’ve taken just as much as you’ve given. You hold all of the secrets to my most fundamental questions. Do I have siblings? On what day was I really born? What is my medical history? The average person from the average family does not have to wonder such things. These are all core pieces of a person’s identity that most take for granted, yet were robbed from me.

In place of answers, I have constructed a Frankenstein version of possible truths. You provided fertile soil for a lifetime of wild speculation. Glamorizing you was the only defense mechanism I had as a child. Like so many orphans in the movies, I wondered if I too was “special” and “meant for so much more.” I stroked and nurtured my idealized fantasies as a way to silence my unrest. I filled in the blanks of my origin story with glossy Hollywood plots, but I am afraid to find in adulthood that it is in actuality filled with a far less glamorous truth. I have entertained the stories that defend you as the noble and brave choice to give me a better life; but I have also contemplated the possibility of being the source of so much shame, that it was better for me to be disposed of than to expose to society how much of a mistake I was. Were you an act of courage or of cowardice, or worse – coercion? Was I merely an inconvenience? Could I be the skeleton in someone’s closet? Am I looking for people who would rather not be found? Is someone out there remembering me, or desperately trying to forget?  

You have made me a student in your art of hiding the darker self. You have taught me that I needed to put on a happy face – a grateful face. Outwardly, I could do all of the celebrating, but none of the grieving. You are a different narrative entirely for people on the outside looking in. You are a rescue narrative, a “happily ever after” story that politely asks to erase the “once upon a time.” I grew up feeling as though I needed to protect and preserve this one dimensional view of you. How unfair. My feelings of grief had no welcome avenue of expression or release. Instead they remained festering somewhere inside, becoming impossible to even articulate let alone heal from. I did not want to be perceived as the “ungrateful adoptee.” Why mourn over the loss of a family who didn’t want me when I was graciously placed with a family who did? Didn’t I know how “lucky” I was? Every sense of loss seemed like a threat to my adoptive family’s role, a nullification of their devotion and love. Becoming a blank slate on arrival was the considerate thing to do. Like so many things that were out of my control and chosen for me, I felt like even my own my emotions were not mine to feel- or at least to express. I am undoubtedly grateful and fortunate to have been supplied a nurturing environment to start a new story, a new identity. My adoptive family is my family- the only family I have ever known. They have only ever done their absolute best for me. Yet the loving support and stable home they provided does not negate the sting of losing my first family. Both are equally a part of who I am.

It has not been all bad between us. You have molded and shaped me in ways for which I am ultimately grateful. You have shown me how to blaze my own trail, to write my own story. You have given me bravery and the patience to stand in the face of racist assumptions or remarks. Since I do not fit into the neat little boxes people attempt to define me by, I have learned not to judge others by their appearances, but by their character. You made me the sore thumb, the uncomfortable conversation starter, the square peg in the round hole, the constantly misunderstood person; yet because of this, you have also taught me to articulate my point of view and made me an advocate for empathy and understanding for others.

I am a stereotype breaker. A survivor. An avid adapter. But most of all I was a literal outcast, alone in the world, in whose life God was able to display His provision and mercy. But please, let Him receive the credit, not you.

As I matured, my defense mechanism of your glamorization persisted, yet evolved. I took only the rose-colored views about you to build an armor around me. I want to believe the story about the young, unwed mother who made the brave but difficult choice. I imagine many adoptive parents need to believe this. I admit that I, more than anyone, have been guilty of willfully closing my eyes to your darker personality. I have kept you at a safe distance in order to exempt myself from accepting more sobering realities. Getting a closer glimpse of you meant distinguishing the hopeful and gallant truths I invented about you from the cold, hard, and ugly truths that might actually be. You in your abstract form, with all of your variables and unknowns, are a much easier explanation for the pain of abandonment than actually holding a person – a mother… my mother accountable.  

We are tethered together, you and I; like the moon and Earth in their tidal lock. The face you never willingly reveal has kept so much of my identity out of view along with it. You have been secretive, but you have also been patient – both a barrier and a shield from the truth I am only now ready to know. Though your unanswered questions hurt me, I was afraid your answers would hurt more.  I realize now that in the years it has taken me to muster the courage to proactively seek the truth, I had been too nervous to flip the coin of your two sides. Which of your two faces would you ultimately reveal? For the first time I am prepared to encounter you for who you really are and not who I imagined you to be. It has taken me my whole life to get to this place. For so long I looked down the corridor of your unanswered questions, too afraid to enter. I imagined the journey to fully know you would be a painful one; but I know that pain is a passage to move through and grow from, not a destination to linger and languish in. I hope you would be so kind as to offer me the closure I have desired for so long. I am ready to accept the full range of who you are, and not who I needed you to be. I am ready to replace the fairy tales I conjured in the emptiness you left, with the blunt truth, no matter how ugly. If in the end you have no answers to give me – if you take your secrets to the grave – having the courage to finally face you candidly will be closure enough.

My hope is that the world would be willing to take a closer and more honest look at you. This cannot happen without adoptee voices. There are some who live more in your shadow than in your light. The more adoptees who speak up, the more accurate an image we will have of you. You are a mosaic of diverse experiences, both positive, negative, and shades of grey in between. The first image of the moon’s far side was not relayed to Earth until 1959 by a Russian space probe. May adoptee voices continue to be the satellites relaying their lived experiences to paint the portrait of who you are. The real you.

MARY IS AN INTERNATIONAL ADOPTEE FROM SOUTH KOREA. SHE WAS ADOPTED BY A LOVING FAMILY AND RAISED IN A RURAL, NON-DIVERSE, SMALL TOWN IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA. SHE NOW RESIDES IN SAN DIEGO WITH HER HUSBAND AND DAUGHTER. SHE HOPES THAT BY SHARING A RAW AND UNFILTERED PERSPECTIVE, SHE CAN OFFER A SORT OF CATHARSIS FOR OTHER ADOPTEES WHO MAY BE STIFLING THEIR GRIEF, OR FEEL AS ISOLATED AND ALONE AS SHE ONCE DID. SHE HAS RECENTLY STARTED A SEARCH FOR HER BIRTH FAMILY, COMPLETED A DNA TEST, AND IS HOPING TO FIND HEALING IN THE PROCESS. (Photo courtesy of Jen Vincej Photography)

38 comments

    • Your expression of your deep feelings of hurt, uncertainty and abandonment are very powerful and important to share. Our daughter is adopted from China, so will never have any information to fill that void. However you cannot make any judgements regarding your birth parents. You have no idea of the situation they were going through, or of the loss they or may not feel at this time or in the past. It is great you can express your very valid feelings but cannot project them on anyone if you know nothing about them.

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  1. Thank you, Mary, for sharing your thoughtful perspective of the abandoned, closed order/sealed documents adoption. It advises to some what the system of adoption does and too often does not do while confirming to others that having angst, wanting to regain OUR identities instead of accepting the court-ordered one we are involuntarily manacled with. Whether ‘domestic’ or ‘international’ most, it not all, adoption protocols/regulations/agents highlight a very false face to the public while insisting that the adoptee who cries foul is not only ingrate, but incorrigible.

    Your words also highlight the fact of siblings and family that even may adoptees don’t consider having been stolen from them along with their origins, nerver mind the non-adoptees who follow DA.. I am sure that you, like me and many others hope that our narratives will encourage those reading to share their stories.

    Inch’Allah (Arabic for God willing) you will discover at least some of your earlier origins and a sibling or cousin and maybe even a birth parent-all who will embrace you and give you a sense of belonging.

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  2. My heart feels heavy for all the adoptees who have not yet reached this plateau of growth in their quest. Keep climbing…the summit is just ahead, and we are all behind you to help and support.

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  3. I too was adopted, felt all these things. And seventeen years ago I searched for and found my birth mother. Now I know My Truth. And we are very good friends, she and I, AND the other six children she went on to have after me, after she finished growing up, and married. The Saga Continues.

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  4. I am really moved by your words. Thank you. I find it so difficult to express exactly what the ‘problem’ about adoption is with so mixed and contradicting feelings.

    You put it so well.

    And I agree – we need more adoptees to speak up.

    All the best from Denmark

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  5. Thank you Mary. This was an excellent read…I especially like the line… “a “happily ever after” story that politely asks to erase the “once upon a time.”

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  6. Wow! I have no words for this unbelievably raw poetic compilation of feelings. I am the mother of an adoptee that I believe feels & felt this exact same way. 😥

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  7. My sister in law was adopted from Korea when she was a child and raised in the states. My husband is also adopted from birth. He has a relationship with his birthmom but his birthfather wants nothing to do with him. However his birthfathers family does but we have not made that leap to meet them. I am also a birthmom to an almost 3 year old who I have an open adoption with. I wish you well in your search and reading this made me wonder what my husband and my son will feel or felt. Xoxoxo

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  8. From an international adoptive parent of two Colombian children, I can only offer this perspective: we loved you the best we knew how. Everyone has their crosses and back story to bear. My infertility made me a better mother. Perhaps your feeling of abandonment will do that for you as well. It’s your choice what to dwell upon and celebrate.

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    • Read it again. A few more times. Let it sink in. What you wrote is insulting to the original writer of the piece, and everyone else who has added their voice in the comment section. This is not the place to come if you want to hear accolades for NOT understanding or respecting what your adoptive children have to live with.

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    • [From an international adoptive parent of two Colombian children, I can only offer this perspective: we loved you the best we knew how.]

      You can do all the Right Things with the best of your knowledge at the time, and still, someday, it is possible those Right Things end up not being good enough.

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  9. Hi Mary, You and your readers might find many echoes of these feelings in an adoption anthology called”A Ghost at Heart’s Edge.: Stories and Poems of Adoption (North Atlantic Press, 1992).

    There are writings from every point of the “adoption triangle,” adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents. They run the range of emotions from joyful to angry and perplexed.

    You can hear a song I’ve written about my experiences–called “Missing Leaves” You can find it on Facebook under “Joyful Jam Cafe.”

    May we never stop searching for truths and answers!

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  10. I feel like I could have written this myself, it is perfect even if I can’t say I personally entertain the idea of there being a “God”. Your metaphors involving Space were lovely, I used to pretend I was an alien and maybe that’s where I could really find a sense of belonging (lol). Thank you.

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  11. Thank you for this!! I am also a South Korean adoptee. #Solidarity from both me and my organization, The New North (which includes another adoptee on our founding members board).

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  12. I’m an adoptive mom and an American domestic adoptee who found my birth family. I just want to tell you that your article was “it”!
    Exactly It! I’ve never heard any one express
    Adoption better! Keep writing!

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  13. I too felt the need to hide part of my identity as an adoptee – the other side of the moon. I felt like the only person who knew what it felt like to touch each crevice as well as each mountain on that other side, because no one else had needed to explore that darker side. I didn’t choose to go there alone, I was born there. I’ve heavily felt in the past year I’ve needed to share that exploration – not just a surface study, but a deep, raw look at how my experience with adoption has affected me in every age and in so many circumstances that many wouldn’t understand. Your call to us fellow adoptees to shed light on the “other side” was heard loud and clear. One cannot understand what one doesn’t know and because of your bravery in posting this, I’m inspired to finally let people know.

    Thank you.

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  14. Such a beautiful, thoughtful, thought-provoking essay. It seems to me that those of us who are not adopted but have grown up in dysfunctional families have had some similar experiences.

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  15. Thank you so much for sharing. Knowing that there are others out there gives me some solace. I am a Korean American who has been adopted by Korean parents and for all my life I have been led to believe that my parents were my parents. Only recently have I found out that I am in fact adopted. I have always felt a disconnect between my parents and myself. Something was always off. It is devastating to find out after 30 plus years that the one thing you could always rely on suddenly became unreliable. Don’t get me wrong, I am truly grateful for the life I have been given. I am one of the fortunate ones whose adoptive parents have done everything they could do to make my life amazing. But my world has been turned upside down and I don’t know where to start over again. Everyone wants to sweep it under the rug and pretend that it’s never happened. Discussion is impossible because I should just be grateful and keep my mouth shut right? I felt so alone. Thank you so much for writing this peice. It has show a light on the dark side of things. The likeness of the moon is the perfect iteration of how things really are. Good luck in finding your family and the answers you are looking for.

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  16. This is a powerfully written, beautifully poetic piece. I plan on keeping it for 2 of my children to read when they are able. As an adoptive mother, I also have diametrically opposed feelings towards birth parents- should I have deep anger for them, having foolishly given up a pricesless treasure more valuable than they can imagine for base, heartless, and convenient reasons? Or do I have the deepest sympathy, having had their most valuable possession wrenched from them by powerful forces of family, economy, and culture? A lost treasure, which now a stranger unfairly possesses for the brief and irreplacable, magical time known as childhood? I don’t know whether to love deeply or despise these unknown men and women, and there is no common ground between the two extremes, so I too choose a white-washed story to tell my children until they reach an age of understanding. A story in which a woman loved them very much, but for a reason we do not know, put them in a safe place to be cared for. It’s a non-explanation that sadly leaves more questions than answers, and I’m helpless to fill in the gaps when my children ask. It’s truly the dark side of the moon. Thanks for sharing your insite.

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  17. That is why no one can speak for an adoptee except the adoptee, not even another adoptee.

    This is true only up until a certain point because I come across so many adoptees who are totally ignorant to simple facts like how women were forced to give up their babies (read Wake Up Little Susie and The Girls Who Went Away). I often hear adoptees say “my adoption is great, I would never search, and I see nothing wrong with adoption” and I really don’t believe that they believe this. So many adoptees fall under the “you better be grateful we adopted you or else” category.

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  18. This is beautifully written and you are so brave to keep the comments on. I had to decide to not have comments on mine because of previous people posting comments like “lies, lies, lies” when I mentioned our lack of OBCs, bio medical info, the lack of father’s rights, corruption, and more.

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