Adoption: An Adoptee’s Personal Experience

What is adoption? According to Merriam-Webster, to adopt is defined as, “to take a child of other parents legally as your own child.” The first synonym for “adopt” is “borrow.” I am borrowed. I mean so little that people have to share me.

When people think of trauma, the last thing they think of is adoption. Although I was too young to remember being carried off the plane and then placed into my new family’s arms, that didn’t mean it wouldn’t be smooth sailing.

If you are parents considering adopting a child, I applaud you for reading this. Know that you’ve got your work cut out for you. If you currently have adopted children, I respect you, but know that there’re things going on with your child that you might not even realize.

When I was a child, I encountered many clueless children. Those same children would constantly point out that I looked different than my parents. Some of them even asked me to explain adoption as if I had magically decided to change races. I’m sorry to inform those children, but my five year old self had no idea how to explain something like that when I didn’t understand it myself.

Most adoptive parents see their child as they should, but some adoptive parents also believe that because you’re their child, adopted or not, you are also white . . . or they want you to be. So they treat you as such. That would be great except for two tiny problems. Internationally adopted children are NOT white on the outside and second, society and the world will never see them that way no matter how hard you wish it were true. A child’s race is not invisible like some parents like to think.

I can remember twirling my hair around my index finger and then yanking it out of my head because I didn’t look like my mommy and daddy. My mom had golden brown hair and so I figured that if I yanked it all out, it would grow back and look exactly like hers. Then, at least, the children at public school couldn’t tell me I wasn’t my parent’s child simply because I didn’t look how they thought I should.

Another time I locked myself in the bathroom and then stuck my fingers into my eyes and tried to make them look “whiter.” When that didn’t work, I used tape to try and make them stay in the way I thought looked “white.” I did the taping in private and would peel the tape off before I left the bathroom.

I also remember that once, when I washed my hands, I broke into tears because my skin color, which was darker than my mom’s, wasn’t washing off. It should wash off because then the ignorant children would stop telling me because I didn’t look like my parents and that I wasn’t really their child.

Let me be frank. Children are great, but they can also be horrible. I also have two younger brothers who were adopted from Korea like me. And because I already know what the next likely question is, no, we are not blood related, but we are still family. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been asked that. We all ran into those high school kids that asked things like, “If you’re Asian, why don’t you have an Asian name? You can’t be Asian without one. You obviously have one; what is it?” My mother told me of an experience one of my brothers had when a boy asked him that very question. My brother’s response? “Phuck Yoo (you).” (No, that is not his Korean name).

There was another time my other brother texted me a few days after he’d started junior high. He asked me if I was his actual sister because some of the kids at the school were confusing him and telling him because we weren’t biologically related, I wasn’t actually his sister. He said he’d said we weren’t because it was true; we weren’t biologically related. I didn’t know what to do with that. I was still in high school. I had enough confusing things of my own to deal with.

For the potential adoptive parents or currently adoptive parents out there, just because your child/children don’t talk to you about different culture, differences in their appearances, and race, doesn’t mean they haven’t noticed it. I can almost guarantee that they have. Society and other children will have reminded them of that every single day. They may not know exactly what’s going on, but they know something is up. It is unlikely your child will talk to you about it BECAUSE they recognize you’re not the same. Other children may have told them you’re all different and so you’re not really their parents. Because of this your child may choose not to say anything instead.

And let me make another huge point. Just because you have adopted a child of a different race, that does not automatically get rid of racism and prejudice within your family. Pay careful attention, especially to the people closest to you. Sometimes those people are the worst because they’re family or close friends so your children feel that they can’t dislike them. If those relatives say some racist or prejudice things here and there, the child might think that person must be right about him/her because they’re family. And family doesn’t hurt you, right? Make sure you know your family is open minded and tolerant to what’s going through an adoptee’s, especially a child’s, mind when he/she hears insensitive stuff from their family. The family they’re supposed to have a better life with.

I remember going to a friend’s house a few years ago. She had also been an Asian adoptee. I walked in and met her white father and the first thing he said to me was, “Oh, you brought another ONE in the house!” He wasn’t trying to attack me. He had said it happily and pleased and didn’t even realize what he’d said was offensive. Subtle racism is still racism. And racism is always hurtful no matter what degree it’s revealed at. I respected that friend even more then because I honestly don’t know how she lives with that every day.

And then there’s always the people out there who’re like, “Your parents didn’t have to adopt you; you should be grateful.” Did you know that stigma against single mothers in South Korea is so bad, shun-bad, that often Korean birthmothers are tricked or even forced into putting their child up for adoption even when they actually may not have wanted to. The stigma in Korea is that no matter what, it was the birthmother’s fault she got pregnant. Like she had some amazing ability to get pregnant all by herself. It’s the law for the man to deal with it and sign paperwork, but if the he chooses to ignore it, no one will care. It’s a mandatory law that he doesn’t have to obey because no one will enforce it anyway. The following link is a vlog of a Canadian couple who has been living in South Korea for years. They address many issues on their site. If you’re interested in more about the stigma, check out the link provided. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0SyJpn5Fp8).

I discovered how true that stigma really was when my parents took me and my brothers back to Korea. We were in high school/junior high. We went with a program that allowed us to have access to our records. I found out that my birthfather was already married to another woman when my birthmother told him she was pregnant with me. He left her. The translator’s exact words were: “Your birthmother gave you up out of anger.” My parents had been telling me all these years that my birthparents gave me up for adoption out of love. They were wrong.

Honestly, high school was confusing enough; I wish my parents would have taken us back when I was in college because that’s the time where I actually became more interested in my birthplace. Hopefully I can return one day now that it would actually excite me instead of just making me a huge train wreck. Again, I am one of many. My experiences don’t speak for every internationally adopted person out there.

There are also some things people really need to stop doing/telling adoptive parents while their children are present. Parents, when it’s out that you adopted your child/children, most often the other person’s reaction is something like: “Oh that was so selfless of you!” or to the child, “Oh, you’re so lucky!”

No, just no. Adopted children are not just some charity cause. We’re not just some idea that needed to be spruced up or saved. We are people. You are not gods for adopting us. It was generous and kind of you. That is all.

“We raised you; show us more respect.” That line tells an adoptive child that their parents didn’t really want to adopt them in the first place. The only reason they did was out of necessity and not out of love. I could walk out of the house tomorrow or jump in front of a car because they don’t really love or care for me. It was all just an act. Just like before.

One of my favorites is: “You’re only acting this way or trying to discuss race like this to us to hurt US.” No, just no. If that’s what you choose to say, then you need to learn to be open-minded and realize that your children, while they are your children, are not white. Society will never see them that way and so your child will never seem themselves as completely white either. It’s identity crisis 101.

I know parents are amazing and do everything that they can for their children. I know they only have their best intentions at heart, but just know that adopted kids are special. Sometimes, you won’t be able to approach the situation in the same way you would if your child was actually born from you. And I can guarantee you it won’t be all sunshine and daisies, but that’s normal.

The main thing I think everyone can do is simple. Keep an open-mind.