Things All Transracial Adoptees Should Know

by , on
2021-06-26

Someday Is Here was my first speaking engagement for a conference. I deliberated for a long time about what I needed to share about transracial adoption. Or, rather, what other transracial adoptees needed to hear. Because this conference centered the voices and experiences of Asian American Christian Women, I tailored my message accordingly. I spoke about common elements in the transracial adoptee growth and healing journey. In other words, the things all transracial adoptees should know.

Click here for a video preview of my presentation.

I hope that those who attended the conference will find this post and use the links I share here as resources for further learning. Because in my 25 minute presentation, I cover a lot of ground. And depending on where someone is at in their journey…my presentation may create more questions than provide answers.

What are the common elements?

I know I just teased my presentation topic without further explanation. Not fair. Here is a basic outline of the things I discussed.

  1. All adoptees need to learn how to lament what we’ve lost.
    There are barriers to even acknowledging that we’ve lost anything or that what we’ve lost is significant. However, lament is a powerful tool that we’ll need when we do encounter areas of loss. Failing to properly grieve and lament leaves us emotionally and spiritually stunted.
  2. All adoptees need to revisit their adoption story and rewrite it.
    Too often we learn our story from the lens of our parents and, while their perspectives may have validity, our adoptive parents do not experience adoption in the same way that we do. We need to sit with the details of our adoption and make our own meaning from it based on our own lived experiences of it.
  3. All adoptees should know the bigger picture of adoption.
    This happens concurrently with rewriting our individual adoption stories. We need to see how our stories fit into the bigger contexts of adoption. For example, I’m a domestic adoptee. Learning about the history of international adoption and the varied impact on international adoptees gives me much needed perspective on my own story. We all need to learn about the ethical issues, the injustices and corruption in adoption as well.
  4. All transracial adoptees benefit from learning our ethnic histories.
    We may never know who our specific ancestors are, but we still benefit from learning about the history of the cultures or regions our ancestors came from. I’ve never met my birth father, but I have learned enough to know that my Chinese ancestors were impacted by the Canadian Chinese Exclusion Act. I’ve inherited the legacy of immigrants who persisted in the face of extreme prejudice and systemic racism. That matters.
  5. All transracial adoptees can reclaim their ethnic heritage in some way.
    Again, there are barriers to desiring to do this or acknowledging that it benefits us, but a fully developed ethnic identity will involve some form of reclamation of our heritage and culture. How that looks is totally up to us. We merely need to give ourselves permission to explore our heritage and integrate things into our life that resonate with us. This process reminds us of the beauty and goodness in our ethnic heritage.
  6. All transracial adoptees are welcome to rejoin their ethnic communities.
    We may not always feel welcome. However, that isn’t because we don’t belong in our ethnic identities. It’s because some people in our ethnic communities may not make space for our return. Some perseverance is required. Find the folks who will welcome you in and guide you. Healing happens in community.
  7. Valuing and offering our TRA perspectives.
    When we’ve engaged in portions of all of the above, we encounter a wealth of lived experience and distinct perspectives. These nuggets of wisdom within us carry messages and truths that the world, the church, needs to hear and learn. Not all of us will be speakers or writers, but however we express or communicate, our TRA perspectives are powerful. We must learn not to devalue or minimize what we bring to the table.

Relevant Resources For You

These resources are tools I consider essential for transracial adoptees and our families.

For understanding the larger contexts of adoption:

Adoptee Perspectives:

For adoptive parents and other white people in the lives of transracial adoptees:

4 Reasons I didn’t Acknowledge Adoption Loss

by , on
2020-09-10

This article was originally published privately for my Patreon Community. It’s an example of the kind of content I will make available exclusively for patrons. If you find my content valuable, please consider becoming a patron.

It wasn’t until I was in my 30s and about to have my own child that I started wrestling with the fullness of my experience as an adoptee. I can’t help but wonder why it took me so long? I can’t help but think if I’d wrestled with these things when I was younger, my adoptive parents would’ve handled it better. So far, I’ve come up with 4 reasons I didn’t acknowledge adoption loss.

FYI: Lack of openness is not the reason.

My relationship with my adoptive mother was marked by a lot of raw and vulnerable conversations. As a teen and young adult, I felt safe and comfortable telling her exactly how I felt and hashing out all kinds of things. My adoption was just never one of those things. 

In fact, I knew I was adopted before I even knew what “adopted” meant. My parents were very open about it. I met my first mom when I was around 9. I had ample opportunities to ask questions and explore my feelings about being adopted, but I didn’t. I assumed that it was all good, never acknowledging the possibility of adoption loss or trauma.

4 Reasons I didn’t Acknowledge Adoption Loss

I’m now doing this work as an adult and suddenly finding it impossible to connect with my adoptive parents, unable to broach the subject with them. I’ve been mining my memories, searching the mindset of my younger self for answers as to why it took me so long to face the complex reality of being adopted. Here are the 4 reasons I’ve come up with, so far.

I completely trusted my adoptive parents.

When they explained my adoption with the common positive, religious spin in a matter-of-fact manner, I believed their words were gospel truth. It didn’t occur to me that there could be another perspective. It’s in my nature to be loyal to an authority I trust. So I resisted asking further questions, figuring if they knew more they’d have told me. I resisted entertaining any feelings that did not fit with their positive adoption narrative.

What could my parents have done to help me know it was ok ask questions? I think they would have literally had to say something like, “You know if I were you, I might have a question about __[insert adoption related thing here]__. Are you curious about that?”

And I might have said no the first time and refused to think about it further. Eventually though, with regular prompts, I might have felt comfortable questioning things.

They also could’ve said something like, “While our experience of adopting you has been wonderful, you might find your experience of being an adoptee is sometimes confusing or difficult. We want you to know it is okay to feel that way and we want you to tell us if you do.”

I believed everything happened for a reason.

My family was very spiritual. Very Christian charismatic. There was a pull to believe my adoption was part of God’s plan for my life and as such, it wasn’t something I felt I could question. How could I question God?! If He wanted something to happen then it must be good for me.

What would’ve helped? If my parents had taught me the difference between what God approves of (perfect will) verses things God merely allows to happen (permissive will) and applied that to my birth and relinquishment, that would’ve helped. I could’ve understood this by high school and it might have opened up space for me to begin to acknowledge adoption loss. However, I suspect they thought that since I didn’t show signs of wrestling with my adoption, there wasn’t any loss to grieve.

I grew up in an all white world.

As a transracial adoptee, there were racial things that happened in my childhood that didn’t get properly assessed and addressed. Why? There was no person of color in our life (at least none willing to take the risk) to point out what was not ok and explain why. I believe I sensed that being racially different was uncomfortable and tried my best to fit in. That meant not questioning what the majority thought or said. That also meant internalizing the racism that I wasn’t taught to recognize as such.

I needed my parents to know things that they didn’t know they needed to know. In the 80’s, being racially colorblind was the moral and Christian (e.g. “God looks on the inside, not the outside”) approach to racial difference. At least for most white people. So while I know it would’ve helped if they’d found an Asian American community and learned to prepare for racial issues, I also know its unrealistic to think they would’ve known to do any of those things. I don’t blame them for not knowing what they didn’t know, but the result of that was still harmful for me.

I saw adoption as a time-limited event.

Adoption, I thought, was something that happened the day I was born and then I just lived the rest of my life like nothing was different. In some ways that naivety provided a buffer from pain. However, this made us resistant to the idea that my adoption could/should inform how we assessed and addressed any issues I had growing up. I got used to looking for any other reason aside from being an adoptee or being racially different to explain adverse experiences or feelings.

What would’ve helped? To help me understand that being an adoptee was going to continue to impact my life in different ways, we would’ve had to have heard that from adult adoptees. We would’ve had to have found someone who knew they were adopted, had come out of the fog themselves, and had the desire and ability to talk about their lived experience. 

I share these reflections for two reasons.

First and foremost, I hope other adoptees might find something they resonate with and maybe hearing me articulate my experience will help them better understand how to communicate their own.

Secondarily, there are a lot of folks out there who love an adoptee and I hope this sheds light into the reasons why some adoptees do or do not or maybe just have not yet felt the need to acknowledge or process adoption loss.