Dear Adoption, I Am One in a Million
Six years ago, at the start of creating Side by Side, I exchanged emails with Dr. Peter Selman, Ph.D., (b. 1941), who is probably the world’s leading authority on inter-country adoption data and trends—not an easy or simple area of expertise. He calculates that, between 1948 and 2010, there were 970,000+ inter-country adoptions in the world.*
That literally makes me one in a million. But to be clear, a million inter-country adoptions is hardly a good thing.
Because war and geopolitical crises are not good things.
The death of one or both parents is not a good thing.
Severe neglect or abuse are not good things.
Extreme poverty, especially combined with high birth rates, is not a good thing.
Shaming and bias against single mothers are not good things.
Bigotry against mixed-race children is not a good thing.
Lack of options for preservation of families is not a good thing.
Separation of infants and children from their birth parents, while possibly necessary for the good of the child, is not intrinsically a good thing.
Institutionalization is not a good thing.
Requiring an infant or child to accept a new and different primary caregiver, sometimes over and over again, is not a good thing.
Wholesale change of, not just a caregiver, but also surroundings, language, food, friends, and culture is, for anyone, let alone an infant or child, not a good thing.
My own abandonment as a 2-week-old baby into the wintery streets of Seoul, in 1960, without identification or explanation, was not a good thing.
Not knowing the names of my biological parents, not knowing whether they are alive or dead, giving up hope of ever knowing—these are not good things.
These are the reasons why inter-country adoption cannot be characterized as simply good. And that’s what I want to tell you, Adoption. That’s what I want to say to the person who asks me how many people in the Side by Side Project were good adoptions vs. bad adoptions. That’s what I want to tell the person at our screening the other night, who asked me why I wasn’t showing more happy inter-country adoptions. That’s what I want to tell anyone who tries to reduce our adoption narrative to a kind of syrupy love story, and who expects us to be only grateful.
Yes, there are many, many good parts to our stories.
Being alive is, of course, a good thing.
Safety and security are good.
Having and experiencing love is really good.
Family is good.
The capacity for resilience and reconciliation in our community is amazingly good.
Being healthy is good.
Education, a good job, and prosperity are all good.
Inter-country adoptees who enjoy these things are, in their own words, grateful for their good fortune. I certainly am. Compared to our brothers and sisters who were adopted into less kind circumstances, and compared to most of those who aged out of institutions, we are truly fortunate.
But for society at large, including some adoptive parents and even some adult adoptees, it’s easiest to only acknowledge these good parts. To pretend that the child’s life began with adoption. To claim to be color-blind and to dismiss the real-life issues of origin, race, alienation, and assimilation. To ignore the fact that some adoptive parents have proven to be unfit and abusive. And, in that way, only a happy adoption story remains—a fairy tale. Adoptees, starting very young, either learn to live with the bad parts, or to become very good at not revealing or thinking about them.
All of this is beginning to change. Right now, websites like Dear Adoption,, I Am Adoptee, Inter Country Adoptee Voices, and so many others are providing adult adoptees with unprecedented opportunity to tell their stories. Adoptee-created books, articles, research, papers, film, art, poetry, and more are flooding into the public narrative.
For myself, it is my desire to fully come to terms with my own story in an open and authentic way. I want this for my adoptee friends. I want this for my brothers and sisters around the world. I want it for you, Adoption.
Times a million.