The above photo was taken during the first few days in Korea that I got to spend with my Omma, upon finally reuniting with her in 2009...34 years after she relinquished me in 1975.
It's the kind of picture that everyone wants to see, because it's the type of picture that makes everyone feel so warm and happy and good about adoption. But it's exactly this kind of photo that can be so misleading, because it tells of only a single moment. It leaves out all the heartache and pain and sorrow that preceded the reunion and all that will follow in the years to come after the reunion.
The more I meet and interact with adult adoptees, and in particular adult adoptees in reunion, the more I have begun to recognize a common experience among us. I have started calling this experience “adoption reunion dissonance.”
This dissonance causes intense psychological distress and conflict.
It is basically the disparity that adoptees in reunion experience between how others perceive our stories and how we experience our realities post-reunion. (Adoptees not in reunion as well as our original mothers and fathers also experience this kind of dissonance, but being that I am an adoptee in reunion I will focus on the perspective from a reunited adoptee’s experience.)
Those who see and hear our stories no doubt cannot help but romanticize our adoptions and our reunions. Our adoptions and reunions have become modern day fairy tales in the minds of the uninformed masses. They cannot help but romanticize our stories because of the still dominant narrative in adoption culture (despite years of adult adoptees challenging this narrative) that idealizes, almost idolizes, the act of adoption.
Folks watch our adoption reunion stories and their eyes well with tears, their heartstrings are pulled, and yet they completely miss the point. Rather than take the tears they cry and the heartache they feel to understand the profound grief, loss, despair, confusion, turmoil that adoptees experience, they walk away from our stories telling themselves and demanding of us that we are the “lucky ones.” They insist that we have been saved by adoption and now via reunion we are finally made whole. So, ultimately, any pain or harm becomes null allowing for adoption to remain the unquestionable hero.
It’s the happy ending everyone wants.