There is only one group of people who can tell us, from experience, what it's like to grow up adopted. We must develop the habit of listening to the stories of adult adoptees.
Please don't think that just because you've known one adult adoptee in your life that you've got the whole picture. Each story is unique. We need to develop the habit of lowering our defenses and listening because only adult adoptees can help us see adoption through an adopted person's eyes.
Today, I interview Tara Bradford about growing up as an international adoptee. Tara has a unique perspective as she is a transracial adoptee, a mom by both birth and adoption, and an orphan care advocate.
Welcome, Tara, to Death by Great Wall. Tell us a little about your story.
We know that all stories of adoption begin with loss, and mine began with my relinquishment by my Korean birth family, resulting in my adoption by a Caucasian family in the US. The family I came into had a son two years older than me.
Unfortunately, the loss did not end there.
The challenge of being a transracial adoptee in a small town --population 800 -- with no other minorities but myself, coupled with what I was experiencing through the divorce created a lot of insecurity, identity confusion, and fear of being rejected. I’ve since reached out to my mom’s first husband and told him I forgive him and have been on a healing journey from my circumstances for the last 13 years.
Was being adopted a positive thing or a negative thing in your life?
It is both. I realize that because of the unknown circumstances of my relinquishment, I could have ended up in conditions that might have taken my life down a very different and negative path had I stayed in Korea. The positive part of being adopted is that despite the circumstances of my adoption, it brought me here to the US where I met my husband and have a very blessed life.
The negative part of adoption is also the unknown circumstances of my relinquishment. It caused me to grow up without my birth family. I experienced further abandonment with the divorce of my adoptive parents and the eventual dissolution of my relationship with my adoptive father. The effects of others' choices on my life dug deeply into my heart and soul, and the road to healing has been long.
What was it like growing up in a family with people who didn't look like you? Did you have any Asian friends or role models?
It was very difficult growing up as a transracial adoptee. My racial background was not something we discussed intentionally. My childhood was challenging because I knew I was different, and I was trying to understand where I fit in since everyone at school was white, and everyone else in my family was as well. I began to think that in order to fit in, I had to look and act white. I remember dreaming about getting my eyelids fixed so I would have folds in them and could look more like the white people around me.
I didn’t know any other Asians and only came into contact with them when we would visit a Chinese restaurant at which point I would feel terribly uncomfortable and embarrassed. I really wish my parents had been more intentional about teaching me the history of my racial background and helping me understand how to feel comfortable with my racial identity within a white culture.
What was your parents' attitude toward your birth family and birth culture? How did that affect you?
We never talked about it. I would like to believe that they respected my birth culture, and I guess I honestly can’t say how they felt about my birth family as again, it wasn’t a topic of conversation that we engaged in.
In looking back at my childhood, I can see how that was very disempowering to me as a transracial adoptee. Not understanding my birth culture or how one exists within the American culture as a transracial adoptee created a huge chasm in my life. The lack of knowledge of my birth family coupled with my ignorance of my birth culture caused me to experience a deep identity problem.
Have you ever gone back to your birth country?
I have never gone back to Korea. I hope to do so soon and have been talking with my husband about when that will be.
If I met my birth mother, I would want to know the circumstances of my relinquishment. There is a constant gnawing inside of me that beckons the question, “Why?” It’s as if I have a chapter of my story that has been torn from the book leaving blanks that can’t be filled in. Even though I’m at peace with not knowing, there is a sense of wonderment about my birth family.
Friends, Tara's honest, vulnerable answers brought tears to my eyes. She's given us a lot to think about. If you have a question you'd like to ask Tara, please leave a comment, and I'm sure Tara will be glad to respond. You can also hear more from Tara on her blog, Smore Stories.
Tomorrow, I'll ask Tara about how her own adoption affects the way she parents her adopted children. See you then!