June 01,2007 / Martha Osborne
Right from the beginning, I want to admit two important facts that have been part of my belief system for a very long time:
- I've never wanted to find my own birth family. I was domestically adopted at birth in the USA, and I have had very minor interest regarding my birth family. Nor have I had any identity issues that would lead me on a search for a missing piece' of myself.
- Twelve years ago, my husband and I chose international adoption for the specific reason that birthparents will not be part of the picture. I had no intention of sharing my child with some unknown family. I wanted things to be straight forward and absent of anyone or anything that complicated my or my future child's life.
- Being adopted myself has afforded many benefits to parenting adopted children that I had not anticipated. I understand their basic curiosities about their origins. I feel no insecurity when they talk about their birth parents, because I know that at their ages I also wondered if I was really a princess who had been mistakenly lost', and wondered if my first family thought of me on my birthday. My advantage also allows me to anticipate questions they might be hesitant to ask and bring those inquiries into our daily lives and conversations.
Although I have a lack of desire to search for my own birth family, I have made it abundantly and frequently clear that this is simply my own point of view. That there are many adoptees who have a strong desire to know more and understand the details surrounding their birth/adoption/life-story.
What I did not expect or anticipate, however, is how my own five children who came to our family through adoption would feel freedoms of expression and emotion that I never had. My open attitude has allowed our girls, who came to us at all ages (and are now ages 8-17 years), to explore and claim their rights to know and understand their heritage. They want whatever answers are available, and feel it is their absolute right to know every moment of their own history, as is the right of a child born into a family.
As a parent, these issues aren't a smooth or easy road to walk. My daughter from Korea will have the option to search for her birth family and a very good chance to find them. My four daughters from China have extremely limited options. Going back to their orphanages they might receive information about where they were found, or a copy of a note left by a birthparent when they were abandoned. While we as parents cherish these little details, stepping back we must realize how tiny and insignificant they will be to our teenage and adult children. They offer no real answers, only more confusion and questions. These little scraps of information do not answer the essential questions my daughters and thousands of other adoptees are asking:
- Who are my birthparents?
- Why, specific to me, (and not in general i.e.: poverty, single parenthood, government policies ) was I abandoned/placed for adoption?
- Do I have birth-siblings?
- Did my birth family want me?
- What do my birthparents look like?
- What would my life be like if they had kept me?
- Did they love me?
- Do they ever think of me?
- Do they miss me?
I can re-assure my children over and over again, but I also now understand this: Knowing what I know now, my attitude has completely changed. If I could choose, I would have some type of contact with the birthparents of my children. I would try to bridge any social or cultural gaps between us and I would absolutely welcome them into our lives.
Not as co-parents..no. That would be impossible. But as the birth-parents, the first parents of the beautiful children I love with every piece of my heart and soul.
When my children were younger, it was easy to tell them, and have them accept, that they would meet their birth parents in heaven. They were at peace with this idea and I felt I was doing a good job. Now that I have 2 pre-teens and 2 teenagers, I know this assurance is simply not enough. Regardless of whether or not the answers can be found for all of their questions, the issues MUST be explored.
Less than a week ago, I returned from a birth-land trip with my daughter, Jennifer WuQin, who was adopted at age nine-years from China . She has now graduated from high school and we took this trip as her graduation gift. Her primary goal? Contact the orphanage and see her file and gain any and all photos of herself as a child before we adopted her. Through the hard work of Lotus Travel, she was able to visit her orphanage and many caretakers, but her requests for more information were denied.
Did we feel cheated or disappointed? YES. We did. While I fully respect the adoption process of this country, I also feel that there was a file, sitting just a few floors above us in the orphanage, that probably contained very minor information. But those tiny details would have given her some hope that she could someday find the answers to the puzzle of her life.
My daughter Jennifer is the most amazing person. I love her more than could ever be described. Will this incident truly affect her life? I think not. But this trip helped me understand even better what I now know to be true: International adoptees are organizing themselves and demanding information that is equivalent to our open-adoption system in the USA . Nothing any adoptive parent or placing-country attempts to do will deter this. These young people want answers and will not stop at the first closed door. My daughter fully intends to find another road to the answers she seeks.
As adoptive parents we have only three choices:
- Tell our children their birthparents loved them but could not parent them due to circumstances in their lives (yes, this may be very true).
- Open ourselves to the reality that our children absolutely will be able to find their birthparents (it's a reality: genetic testing in the next 20 years will match our kids to their birthparents through-out the world) and support our children.
- Vainly try to brainwash our children into believing that their birthparents do not matter and/or are bad people.
I know that last option does not go down well. But the truth is, I receive articles all the time that are warm and loving in the telling of the adoption story, but mention the birthparents as alcoholic, street-people, unmarried mothers of many, etc. Are these the facts? Maybe. But honestly.these are human conditions that yes, may have led to the placement of the child in an orphanage, but do the fully describe the parent/human that is your child's link to life before adoption? And is this the primary information you want your child to believe? The honest truth that I have seen played out again and again in adoptees is this:
When parents emphasize that a birthparent had specific problems, the child will often work very hard to have those exact same problems. It's part of forming identity. The best option for an adoptive parent is to love their child fully, while also supporting their child's journey of identity, culture/racial issues and knowledge of self. This helps a child seek out the positive and the truth, and at the same time view the adoptive parent as a truly supportive, loving parent who is not threatened or fear-filled. Because the truth is, adoptive parents need to accept that we are the parents of our children, and we do not lose that identity or our children's love simply because they wish to explore their history, culture or origins.
I've spent the bulk of this article dispelling the 2nd fact I presented in the beginning. It would be dishonest to end it here.
I have made the decision to carefully wade into finding my original family. My birth-family .
I was adopted in 1968, and my parents (my adoptive parents/real parents, who raised me) were pretty forward-thinking. They truly raised me to have a great respect for the choice my birth-mother made. And yet, there is this tinge of guilt, this shame I feel for wanting to do this. I know my parents do not understand, and do not truly support this search, though they are trying to appear supportive. So I continued to put off papers I could file or roads I could take, because of the guilt I felt.
I admit this now because it is the honest thing to do. Five months ago, just after my 39 th birthday, I suffered a minor heart attack. 16 years ago, I had my first run-in with skin cancer. For these reasons, I would like to have some type of contact that would allow me to have access to my birth family's medical records. And I have met a brick wall. Even today, in the USA , my records are impossible to 'unseal'. They exist, but I cannot reach them. I might as well be back in China two weeks ago, with my daughter asking for records that are there, but being denied access. And that needs to change.
As an adoptee I want only this single message to get through to adoptive parents:
We love you. You are our parents. If you fill us with guilt because of your insecurities or fears, it does not stop our needs or longing, but only makes us deny or hate ourselves for wanting some simple facts or knowledge. And eventually our anger turns inward to ourselves, or outwards towards you. Love us enough to be secure and know we love you also, as we can love no one else.
As an adoptive mom I want my children to know this:
I am fallible. I won't always hear your need, or know your longing, but I am trying. I am secure in your love for me and I want you to explore every avenue of your life.
I'm not afraid anymore. Is that strange to say at my age? Probably as strange as saying that I am glad I had a heart attack. It freed me from any guilt that I may have had. I love my parents and accept them as well. But I also know and do not fear losing their love. I have to follow my own path.
By loving my parents and my children, I have become a bridge. An adoptee and an adoptive mom. I need to find my answers and I respect that my children also need to find their own answers, in their own time. My desire is for everyone to get past the fear and embrace what I tell my children daily:
Love is the only thing in life that multiplies the more you give it away.