Saturday, January 16, 2010

"They Remembered Me"

From AdoptiveFamlies, an article by Korean adoptee Hollee McGinnis (who happens to be policy & operations director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute), who did not search for her birth family -- they searched for her:

That night, as I stared at the blurry photo of my biological grandfather and grand mother, my mind kept returning to one thought: They remembered me. Every adopted person thinks about the man and the woman—ghostlike figments—who gave her life. But that night the characters in my adoption story came alive. They were no longer figments of a dream, but flesh and blood people—people who shared my blood.
It took four years of exploring my American, Korean, and adoption identities before I embarked on a journey back to my birth country to meet my birthfather and his family. The night before I left for Korea, I sat with my parents on our back patio. I feared the only parents I knew might feel I did not love them if I met my birth family. But my dad dispelled my worries. He said, "We always knew we had family in Korea."
Suz commented on a post once saying that she wished stories from adult adoptees about searching for or meeting birth family didn't include defensive language about their adoptive families, the de rigueur defense of "I love my adoptive parents, but. . . ." I wish we were past that, too. After all, what could be more natural than someone wanting to meet their birth family? That doesn't have anything to do with how good or bad their adoptive family is/was!

Still, some adoptive parents need to hear that message, and McGinnis provides that reassurance here: "But meeting my biological family has in many ways strengthened my relationship with my adoptive family; I have a future now with my birth family, but nothing can take away the years of nurture my parents gave me."

She also absolves her parents for withholding the letter her birth grandfather sent when she was 15, and not disclosing it to her until she was an adult (on the advice of an adult adoptee they consulted). I think adoptive parents really take a risk withholding this kind of information, a risk of damaging their relationship with their child. With so much uncertainty in the lives of adopted children, they need to be able to trust that we will tell them the truth -- the whole truth. Adoption experts say children need to know the whole truth by age 12. Yes, we tell the truth in age-appropriate ways, but we have to tell the whole truth.

I can't speak to her situation, but I'd have to say that I would think a 15-year-old would be old enough to learn of the letter. The reason experts say kids need to know their whole story by age 12 is that so much important identity work happens in the teen years. Adopted kids need to be able to integrate their whole story in those teen years. I would think it would be important for a teenager to see that letter, and know that her birth family had not forgotten her. I'd think it would be a positive for an adopted teen to work that knowledge into her identity.

Still, I'm glad that McGinnis' parents did tell her about the letter; not all adoptive families would, I'm sorry to say, from stories I've heard. And I'm glad that her parents were sensitive enough to absolve her of any loyalty conflict, accepting that she wanted to go to Korea and meet her birth family.

No comments: