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Adoption and Child Separation at the Border

On June 1, 2018 Rebekah Henson published an important thread on Twitter critiquing the hashtags #FamiliesBelongTogether and #Ke...

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Adopted Babies Grieve*

Photos from my file
When I first joined my new family, in a new home, in a new country with new sounds and unfamiliar smells and foods, I cried and screamed unabated for days on end. My Mom was so concerned she took me to see a doctor. The doctor diagnosed me with “acute separation anxiety.”

I was 6 months old.

Why am I sharing all of this?

People tend to casually dismiss adoptee loss and grief by arguing that we were “too young” to know the difference, as if being a baby means our feelings at that time were negligible and without effect, as if our loss and grief then had no impact on who we became and who we are today.

Now that I am a mother myself, I become all the more convinced that such a narrative is a lie and does great harm to the well-being of adoptees.

Babies grieve. Babies know. Babies understand when something is wrong, when someone is gone. When their worlds have been turned upside down and they have lost everything, they know.

Me holding my newborn son
It was not simply “acute separation anxiety” that my 6-month old self was experiencing.

It was profound loss and grief. It was a traumatic separation. First, from my Omma--my Korean mother who had carried me within her own being for almost a year. And then a second traumatic separation from my foster mother--the only caregiver I had known for the first 6 months of my life.

I cried for days on end because I knew I had lost everything.

I was grieving.

Babies of course are not adults.

But they are also not mindless blobs of fat and cuteness.

Babies feel. Think. Know. At the most primal, vital level.

But babies will also do whatever it is that they need to do to survive. And sometimes that means shutting down and trying to forget.

I forgot. Or so I thought.

But now, I can’t forget.

Now, all I do is remember.

Every. Single. Day. Of my amazing, awful, beautiful, painful life.

Never forget.

This is the mantra in the subconscious of every adoptee. Whether they know it or do not. Not because we want it that way, but because that is basic biology--

DNA does not forget.

And neither do our mothers.


*This is the second essay in a series titled, "Reflections from the Other Side of 10 Years Post-Reunion," that I am publishing as I examine the past 10 years since reuniting with my Korean family. To view additional essays in this series, click here.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

I Don't Believe in Adoption Anymore: 10 Years Post Reunion*

Visiting the Korean War Memorial

A decade has passed. Ten years.

January 7th used to be just another day.

Now January 7th marks the day I got THE phone call.

The phone call that taught me the impossible can in fact become possible. The phone call that opened the portal to the world I thought I would never find again.

The phone call that has also taught me that grief can last a lifetime. And that finding does not always mean knowing. 

In the past decade, I have learned that resolution for those who were lost from one another is elusive. I have learned that pain does not always diminish, but rather it adapts. It metamorphoses. 
There is not a day that slips through my fingertips that I do not carry with me an endless sorrow, because within me there is also a ceaseless love. 
But this endless sorrow and ceaseless love have done anything but diminish from my life. Rather their eternal lingering has enriched my life beyond measure.
With this kind of pain has also come a depth of living that makes every moment feel precious, every relationship golden.
Meal with my Appa in Seoul
A meal with my daughter is everything but mundane. A conversation with my son is everything but ordinary.
Spending fifteen committed years with my partner is everything but unremarkable. 
Because as someone who lost everything before I knew what everything was, I cannot take for granted how fragile, how temporal these moments can be if we do not choose to protect and cherish them. 

Ten years ago, I got the phone call that my Korean mother and Korean father were not only still alive, but that they wanted to meet me--after being separated for over three decades. 
That moment changed my life forever. It is still changing my life forever. It will never stop changing my life forever. 
And it also changed my mind forever.
I used to believe that adoption was beautiful and that it was the best thing for a person like me.
Lanterns at a Korean Buddhist Temple
I don’t believe that anymore.**
Now I believe that families should never be separated. And they should certainly never ever be separated because of poverty or duress or religion or lack of education. 
I used to believe that my Omma gave me away because she loved me. 
Now I believe that my Omma gave me away because she was brainwashed with guilt into believing that she was giving me a better life by giving me away. Now I know that my Omma gave me away because America and her own people taught her that White people are more worthy of her children, because being poor, uneducated, brown, and unconverted somehow rendered her love less worthy than a love that was rich, educated, Christian, and white.
A decade later, January 7th represents to me the beginning of my Awakening. The advent of my Emergence. 

It is the moment I began to understand transracial and transnational adoption in its larger sociopolitical context--as an extension of White American imperialism and colonialism sharing roots entangled with a long history of white supremacy that has relentlessly engaged in the erasure of black and brown people through colonization and brutality, invasion and war, slavery and apartheid, imprisonment and oppression, and yes, family separation and adoption. 

To say that these epiphanies have been a universe-altering paradigm shift is putting it lightly.

And yet, ten years deep into this journey of reclamation and proclamation of who I am and ultimately, of who I now know I have always been--all I can say is brace yourselves, because I am only just getting started.


*This is the first essay in a series titled, "Reflections from the Other Side of 10 Years Post-Reunion" that I am publishing as I examine the past 10 years since reuniting with my Korean family. Click here for additional essays in the series.

**Also, for those who are upset or disturbed by my statements that I do not believe in adoption anymore or that I believe families should never be separated. I encourage you to spend some time reflecting upon why it upsets or disturbs you for me to express these ideas, and to explore the complexities at the root of my statements. What do you think I mean when I state I do not believe in adoption anymore? What do I mean when I say I do not believe families should ever be separated due to poverty or duress? What alternative or additional options might there be to family separation? Can you ponder perhaps the practice of family preservation? What would a commitment to family preservation look like? Is permanent separation and severance from one's family and origins truly necessary? What could replace orphanages? What could replace adoption agencies? Have you ever thought about family centers that could provide support and resources to empower at-risk families facing duress or poverty? To further educate yourself, click here, here, and here. Also, consider reading the book, The Child Catchers by Kathryn Joyce.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

10 Lessons Being Adopted Taught Me

Adoptees On is a Podcast Hosted by Haley Radke.

1. I learned about being a minority.

Although my skin color is that of the dominant race, I learned early in life that I was part of a minority group.  I was told I was adopted at a young age, so as I grew up, I noticed that the overwhelming majority of people I knew were living in biological families.  In the 70’s,  you mainly learned about other families by spending time with them, reading about them, or seeing them on T.V.  My first realization about the differences was when I saw a neighbor breast-feeding her baby.  I think I went into shock because that was not something ever seen or talked about before in my home.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

ROUNDTABLE: Adoptees on Family Separation and Immigration Policy (Part 3)

ROUNDTABLE: As adoptees, the writers of Lost Daughters share a history of separation from family. This gives us insight into the trauma of separation and influences our response to the separation of children and parents as a result of immigration policy. How have the Lost Daughters been affected by recent news coverage of this practice of family separation? What action steps do we recommend? What do we want others to understand about our own experience of separation and its relevance to this issue?