This past Friday morning, I sipped my hot coffee while I chatted with a dark-haired Peruvian woman who sat snug on my couch. A mutual friend had connected the two of us because we shared various similarities in our stories. We were both adopted from outside the U.S and appear visibly different in skin tone than our adopted families. Our reason for meeting was to provide her with my first-hand experience of being an international adoptee in America for her master’s thesis about adoption.
Throughout our conversation, we discovered that we shared similar experiences. We both desperately wanted to be white when we were younger. We would have done anything for blonde hair that didn’t poof and frizz in the rain. We both have felt tender and excited about birthdays, a special day that celebrates our lives but reminds us of our loss. Also, we are deeply proud of our birth and adopted names. Names, she learned in her research, hold so much weight for an adoptee because when you are abandoned, a name feels like a proud pendant on your jacket.
We discussed how our adopted privilege expires when we move out of our parent’s home. Once we enter adulthood, strangers assume we are accustomed to the culture, food, language, and expectations of our motherland and treat us how they would treat anyone from that particular part of the world. People make assumptions about our mannerisms, level of education, religion, relationships, and even food preferences. I can’t tell you how many people ask me how I make my style of rice pudding or if I miss India. For the record, my favorite rice pudding is purchased from the local Trader Joes’ dairy section. India, while so special to me, isn’t a place I remember nor do I have fond childhood memories of. For the majority of my life, India felt like a mythical land I might visit one day.
My culturally Indian experiences were limited to the few trips I took to the local Indian restaurant. That was it until the kind people at the airport reminded me I was Indian as if I would dare to forget. The blessing of puberty and tragedy of 9/11 hit at the same time. In 2001, I could pass for much older than a 13-year-old and when flying with my adopted parents, whose skin is white, most TSA staff assumed I was not traveling with them. I would be separated at checkpoints because I didn’t look like my family. Countless, I mean countless, times since 9/11 I have been questioned, searched, bags opened and the whole ordeal, because of my appearance.
All of this plays into my experience as an adoptee. For the majority of my life, I’ve been identified with a people group I knew very little about while appearing to be like them.
Many adoptive parents feel insulted or betrayed when their children experience grief and feelings of loss from losing a life shared with their birth parents. Yet, the natural way of mother-child relationship is severed and the heart and brain know it. Studies show that adoptees often struggle with depression, loneliness, and isolation, but hardly share their honest struggles with their adopted parents because they know it will fall on defensive ears. Hear me now, adoption is beautiful. As an adoptive mom myself, I can tell you it is powerful to invite a child into your home that deserves love and affection, but never forget an adopted child’s story begins with loss. Loss that can bleed into every area of his or her life.
According to a study published in Pediatrics, adoptees are four times more likely to commit suicide than biological children. Adoption on its own does not end with unicorns and high fives. Adoption isn’t the end of the story but rather a new beginning in one’s life to be navigated. Traumatic beginnings, often overlooked by adoptive parents because they feel they’ve played the part of the rescuer, must be addressed if the heart of the adoptee will ever be in a place to receive love simply for who they are. Because the truth is, no matter what each of our stories may be, the story of God remains the same. That God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will have everlasting life (John 3:16). My loss reflected through the prism of the gospel points to a redeemed life in Christ. My understanding of God’s grace and truth has radically changed the arc of my story. I’m forever grateful.
The only way I found new life in Christ was by actively engaging my feelings of loss and abandonment. Too many of us numb our feelings of tragedy and trauma in hopes they will go underground, never to be dealt with, or we share them with others only to be shut down. The good news is the Lord is present in the dark places of our heart and headspace and can handle our feelings of grief and loss. He is our Healer, our Deliverer, and Redeemer.
If there are broken pieces of your story you can’t quite make sense of, dear reader, I encourage you to start with prayer. Seek the Lord and invite him to speak over your tender hurts. Search the scriptures and read of His love and grace. Share your heart with a mentor, a counselor, or pursue group therapy. Freedom and hope are yours in Christ. I believe there is no part of you beyond God’s hand of healing. You are loved. You are enough.