Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Matrix of Reunion - Adoption Evolution - #FlipTheScript

Today’s Prompt: How has your viewpoint about your own adoption and about adoption in general evolved over the course of your life? Do you find yourself wanting to learn more about adoption in general, wishing more often that you could get away from everything adoption-related, or perhaps not thinking so much about adoption at all? How are your opinions about adoption different now, and what has most influenced your thinking?

"You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes."

"Remember: all I'm offering is the truth. Nothing more."

The Matrix, 1999   All Matrix quotes are with thanks to 

I had a very clear understanding of my adoption growing up. To sum it up: It didn't matter. I had a loving family, a good life, the fact that I was adopted was inconsequential. I was sure that whatever reason my original mother had for relinquishing me was a good one and I was happy in the life I was given. 

I was confident, secure, content. I did well in school and had good friends. 

Neo was born as one of the billions of bluepills connected to the Matrix, where he was known as Thomas A. Anderson. As Thomas Anderson, he was a 'normal citizen with a social security number' ...
Somewhere during this time, Anderson became subconsciously aware that there was something wrong about the world around him. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but he knew something was different, out of balance.

I understood that some people pitied me. They had grown up with their own families, they couldn't imagine what it must be like to be left by your parents and given to another family. They didn't understand that it didn't matter. I had a family, just like they did. I didn't care that it wasn't my original family. 

If anything, adoption made me special. It gave me this unique and interesting quirk to who I was. My origination was a mystery and I relished the thrill of that. I could be anyone. 

A message interrupted the search, blanking out his screen: "The Matrix has you... Follow the white rabbit." Not making sense of the message at first, Anderson tried to restore his computer to its normal operating mode. A final message read: "Knock Knock Neo."

So, when I turned 18, I decided to call the number of the adoption agency that my parents had given me. It was the magic key to unlocking my truth, to be used when I was ready, anytime after I turned 18. I used it on the day of my birthday. 

What I didn't know was that as I turned my key, my birthmother did as well. She called the adoption agency the same day, for the same reason. To know. As the social worker went to put away the notes from the phone calls, she realized she had a match in her hands.

Neo refused (the invitation) initially--until he spotted the tattoo of a white rabbit on Dujour's arm, as hinted by the message on his computer. Anderson decided to tag along.

I met my birthmother soon after. I asked all my questions, and her answers plunked down into me with a momentary ripple and then all was still again. We parted, agreeing to stay in touch. 

After our meeting, I drove to my favorite park to have some time to myself and take it all in. My mystery was gone. I was no longer special. I had an ordinary origin. I should feel relief. But, for all of its ordinariness, it left me feeling unsettled. As if something had shifted, as if something big was going to drop. 

She confirmed his suspicions about the world, alluding to the Matrix, and adding more clues and confusion to his search for the truth.

The bits of knowledge about who I was, where I came from left cracks into my idea of who I was. Just hairline fractures, nothing significant, but over time, those small fissures would spread and grow until all I knew of who I was shattered to the ground with a crash. I stepped out of the fog I was in and into a world completely foreign and unknown.  

I was raw, vulnerable, confused. I was utterly alone. I didn't know what would happen next or if I would ever feel whole again.   

Anderson made it out of the building without being seen. However, as he was about ten stories off of the ground, he refused to negotiate a path which took him outside office walls. Fearing for his life, Anderson turned himself in... Anderson's mouth began to seal shut, blocking his screams of shock, outrage, and later, pain. 

Adoption didn't matter to me until then. Faced with the knowledge of what I lost, I became lost. Suddenly, adoption mattered. Everything I believed until then, felt like a lie. It was a world constructed for me to believe, to make life more palatable. Looking behind the facade, what I saw was ugly, dark and scary. 

Morpheus described to Anderson an entity known as the Matrix, depicting it as a prison for the mind. He offered him the chance to be shown the Matrix, offering him two pills: one red and one blue. 

I had seen behind the curtain. I faced a choice at that moment. I could take the blue pill, ending reunion right then and go back to believing the bright and happy adoption story I was given - that adoption didn't matter, that I was chosen, special and a lucky. 

Or I could take the red pill, stay in reunion and see how deep the rabbit hole went. It would mean I remain in this dark, murky, frightening world and see what I could learn about myself. There were no promises. But there was truth. 

I took the red pill.

A mysterious robot descended upon Anderson, disconnecting the wires attached to his body and dumping him into the sewers below. He tried his hardest to swim, but as his muscles were atriphied were discovered to be totally useless, as if they had never been used (which, in fact, was indeed the case). Before he would certainly have drowned, Neo was rescued by a mysterious craft floating above him. Aboard this mysterious ship, he saw Morpheus and others behind him. Before he blacked out, Morpheus said, "Welcome to the real world."

I haven't mastered this underworld of reunion, but I am grateful to understand more than what I had known before. I have come to value painful deep truths over easy pretty stories. Now and then, I'm even able to dodge a bullet that would have killed me in the pre-reunion world. I now see those who construct the imaginary happy adoption world as powerful enemies and the fight toward truth and wholeness feels insurmountable at times. 

I understand that some people think I'm crazy. I'm a zealot, ranting about things that they don't see. They dismiss me as ungrateful as they go back to their pleasant world. 

But, sometimes, out of the corner of their eye, they might see a shimmer of something that doesn't look quite right. Something that hints that there is more to the story than what they've been told. 

And then they'll face a choice. 

Blue pill, or red pill?


Cathy Heslin is a reunited adult adoptee of closed domestic adoption in New Jersey. She met her birthmother when she was just 18 and moved out to Portland to live with her after graduating college. She has been in reunion with her birthmother for over 25 years, and with her birthfather for 15. She now has a complicated extended family that includes all sides.

She writes about adoption with a focus on long-term reunion. She has written a memoir in partnership with her birthmother called Kathleen-Cathleen where she and her birthmother write alternating chapters sharing their experience of reunion from both the perspective of the adoptee and the birthmother (not yet published). They also write parallel blogs on shared themes: Cathy's blog is Follow Cathy on Twitter @CathyHeslin.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Nam15. Day 28 Unknown Messages (related to adoption).


What aspect of adoptee experience is not discussed enough in your opinion?

Personally it wasn't until I reached my 20s that I understood that there were some people-even professionals and experts that truly believed adoption caused PTSD in adoptees. That notion really resonated with with me and I do believe it I just wish society would too. Instead of dismissing it and brushing it aside.

So what exactly is PTSD and how do you recognize it adoptees? Some people are convinced young children don't have memories if they just get love they'll be alright.

Some additional sources to learn more about PTSD in relation to adoption.

Especially if the child becomes an adoptee in infancy but it seems that human pysyche is more complicated than society previously believed.

The bond between a mother and her child is sacred-should be cheerished and protected. But for adoptees the unfortunate or planned separation from their birth mother will cause a trauma. Especially if the young child is relinquishment or maternal separation.

The only defence mechanism a young relinquished child has to help them deal with this is too either cry or become or react to physical touch and anger.

Adopted children can be classified in two different categories. The adoptee will either act out or become complient to what degree depends on each different child. So it should not come as a surprise that 7,6 % of adopted teens were more likely to commit suicide than their non-adopted peers where only 3 % of teens seemed likely to the same.

While the adoptee that acts out will try to start from parents, teachers and even friends just to prove that he or she is unlovable or just rejecting the same people that once rejected them.

The most common reaction from society and APs is to try to convince the adoptee that need therapy- rarely acknowleding that adoption can result in trauma.

For the complient child it seems to be even more devastating since they not will be responsible for causing any issues or be well engaged and intergrated basically appearing as visibly successful.

Such a child is likely to be overlooked. The important thing to remember is that they both are hurting from the same experience that was the adoption trauma.

The difference is that the APs make a concious choice to initiate adoption just as the birth family appears to be able to make a similar choice. For the adoptee there never was a choice it was something life altering that actually happened to them.

For a newborn and infant the maternal infant bond is of major importance. Since studies has shown that a infant newborn will be able to recognize it's mother's voice. Nancy Verrier author the Primal Wound explains this in her book.

I am an adult and grown woman free to make my own choices, decisions and mistakes. My APs especially my mom is of the opinion that you always should seek help if there is something that bothers you. Even my dad agrees but I'm no longer a young child.

I've gone too therapy and counseling for over 20 years. I'm exhausted now. I no longer what good it could come out of me going to yet another psychologist or professional. I made this decision since I struggle to see what good could come out of it for me, if I bring up all my issues yet again.

There are other solutions than adoption. I know I say this many times but in my case I never was an orphan. I had an intact birth family with older siblings and birth parents who were married. In that sense I never was an orphan. My birth family was poor at the time of my birth- but I don't think that's the entire truth. Yes they were poor but 20 years later they are still poor. So I do not believe that was the real reason.Perhaps there's an orphan hojuk for me since my adoption wouldn't have been granted. So many things in my adoption was not according to official guidelines.

I realize that there are things I must accept for as long as I lived I have wanted to know my actual birthday. Or more especially what time of the day I was born. Because of my special circumstances I will never know that. My own birth mother doesn't know and the only other two people that may know I can't ask.

That is the only aspect I'm willing to accept.

If I ever will decide to seek theraphy again it must be with someone who believes that adoptees can suffer from PTSD. That adoption in itself causes a trauma that most likely will develop into PTSD.

My APs wants me to seek theraphy and just accept that my life is the way it is. Sure I could that, but I refuse to do it. Simply because I want someone to acknowledge that.

I feel like there are so many trivial choices that my adoption relinquishment has denied me. My APs is also responsible for adding to this feeling. I was not allowed to choose my college my APs decided it for me. In a way I might resent them for that but my APs seem unwilling to realize how I react when someone makes decisions for me. Much like my adoption.

It will not be able to make me feel better it will only benefit the trained professional that might get a rare insight into the mind of a transracial adoptee. Thank you but I don't want to feel like an experiment or someone's guinea pig. Secondly, these trained professionals more often than not share the same or general view that most APs (to transracial adoption. I know my opinions don't go hand in hand with the generally accepted opinions. There's no point in trying to make me feel better since adoption never will feel alright to me. Yes it's my life- unfortunately nobody ever asked me if I wanted to be separated from my birth parents.

Aren't children supposed to rebel against their parents at some point !? I don't think I'm a rebel based on my opinions in other eyes than my APs. I suppose my APs always will see me as that infant girl all those years ago. I think it shouldnt be seen as some adoptees are rebellious. It's mostly a natural part of growing up and forming your identity.

I also asked myself many times if my APs would have adopted me - if they knew the events surrounding my birth and adoption. I assume they still would make the same decision. A part of me just want them to recognize and validate that my adoption was a total mess. I just wish they would give me that recognition.

How painful the relationship would be to my APs and especially to my A mom. Reminded of the loss of my birth mother. My mom was elated when she first layed eyes on me for her I was the child she never had herself. I love my mom but I also love my birthmother my omma. In my love for my mom I am also reminded of the fact that she isn't my birthmother. The very notion of my mom is a bittersweet reminder of the Korean woman I never got to know. Not as my mother maybe as my birth mother only.

That is sometimes difficult for me to handle to this day and I admit I tend to be somewhat rude towards her. While the relationship to my dad - the man who married my mom and who I know as dad is an almost atonomy. My dad represents the first male role model I was presented to. He alone has had to compensate for my feeling of rejection based on my gender. A feeling I grew up with and became familiar with. For years I used to believe that was the truth. My truth and my birth family's reason for giving me up for adoption.

Finally realizing you were loved and wanted despite of your gender isn't someting you simply can unlearn. A part of me still believes that since Korea's society is what it is. Even today.

Every relationship I have attempted I have struggled to keep. Or tried my best to get rid of not wanting to get close to other peple. Not wanting to become vulnerable. The one person that was supposed to never leave me, I never got to know. For years I did believe what society wanted me to think- it was in my social study. It's a fact that society is a patriarchy even the most feminist and equity friendly country in the Western World. It was easy for me to believe that I was unwanted based on my gender since Korea's society and culture has a strong hierarchy and patriarchy. That's the reason why so many girls are adopted over boys. Which in China has led to the unfortunate development of redundance of boys while girls are in deficit.

It is actually false to think that the birth mother once made a concious choice to relinquish their child to adoption. Yes the relinquishment ocurred but that does not mean the birth mother should be held accountable for that decision. Many times the birth parents might not even be aware that their child was adopted to begin with.

Even though the adoptee may or may not have physical evidence to support that statement. The truth is that in cases where the agencies offer counseling and guidance since they have a self interest in finalizing adoptions that is what they will argue for. Even though the birth parents initially may not have wanted to over make that decision. Sometimes neither of the birth parents are aware their child was sent for adoption.

The social study might exist in two different versions one official and one that is carefully concealed and untranslated.

Certain things may very well become taboo to discuss with your APs as you become an adult.

Not sure if it's just my APs that have major problems with accepting my views and opinions relating to my own adoption.

Far from all adoptees get adopted into a loving family. To think that is to be naive. There are numerous cases of interracial and domestic adoptees that becomes part of abusive families. Not every adoptive parent will be able to provide an adoptee with the future and life that they deserve.

Even if you are fortunate to be adopted by the right APs I belive that adoption never should be sought. Children are not supposed to be separated from their birth families unless there are extraordinary circumstances present. Otherwise I would say that foster home and foster families are better. Not that any of the options is to be desired. Not if you ask me. They are just to different types of evil that manifests differently. Neither is better than the other.

The number of children your APs chooses to bring into your family will not automatically feel like your sibling. Yes you and your sibling may all share the same APs. But it is a presumption that all adoptees within the same family structure grow up and feel like natural siblings. My younger brother and I would most likely never have known each other if it wasn't for the fact that we were adopted by the same couple. The age difference between us both is another significant fact.

I think there are some sort of glorification sourranding constructed familes from adoption. Normally nobody expects two siblings to get along or too share a special bond. Why is it so when it comes to children that is raised by APs!?

Not every adoptee is driven by the same things, my younger (adopted) brother is the exact opposite of me. He has very little interest in his birth parents or culture. I don't know if that's because he's a male or if it has to do with the fact that he seems content with his adoption.

As far as I know he has shown very little interest in searching for his birth parents or visting (our) birth country. Every adoptee is unique not everyone feels the need to search for their birth parents.

The agency from where I was adopted had a policy that allowed adoptees to apply for a birth family search as young as 15. The reason was that the system was welltrusted. Of course a nation or agency that has been active for 60 years or so is expected and assumed to have some experience.

How complicated a birth family reunion really is. My birthfamily insists I should be grateful towards my APs. Reality is that it is estimated that about 2000 adoptees travel to their birth country to search for their birthparents. Among those who actually manages to to find their birthparent/s it's less than 10 %. It is not possible to make up for lost time or to mend ties as easily as one might want to. The place that was meant for the adoptee has most likely already been filled. If you try to move in one direction you obviously risk upseting your APs. But a reunion isn't supposed to be about the APs. It's meant for the birth family and adoptee.

This aspect might only relate to transracial adoptees in comparison to domestic adoptees. To my understanding they are less likely to experience that language barrier that most adult adoptees are forced to deal with. Of course, I am not saying that domestic adoptees never are subjected to adoption trauma. Of course they are an adoptee is always separated from their birth mother.

I remember that my APs strictly forbid me to mention my thoughts about my birth family - perhaps they feared they would lose their last remaining child.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Recent Books by Lost Daughters Contributors #flipthescript

In response to today's #FlipTheScript prompt, I'd like to highlight four books published during the past year by our sisters here at Lost Daughters:

Lynn Grubb edited and published The Adoptee Survival Guide: Adoptees Share Their Wisdom and Tools, a collection of essays by adoptees including a good number of Lost Daughters contributors: Karen Belanger, Von Coates, Laura Dennis, Rebecca Hawkes, Cathy Heslin, Deanna Doss Shrodes, Lynn Steinberg, and Amanda Transue-Woolston.

The authors provide support, encouragement, and understanding to other adoptees in facing the complexities of being adopted, embarking on search and reunion, fighting for equal access to identifying information, navigating complex family relationships with the latest technology, and surviving it all with a sense of humor.

Soojung Jo shared her story of adoption and reunion in Ghost of Sangju: A Memoir of Reconciliation. 

The book takes readers through Soojung’s childhood in Kentucky filled with joy, family, friendship—and the loneliness of being marked as an outsider even in her own home. Alternating between humor and heartbreak, she offers a glimpse into a life foreign to most: that of a West Point cadet and her return to South Korea, the country that had once sent her away.

Rosita Gonzalez and Amanda Transue-Woolston, along with Diane Rene Christian, edited Flip the Script: Adult Adoptee Anthology, a diverse compilation of literature and artistry by a global community of adoptees inspired by the #FlipTheScript movement. The book features Lost Daughters contributors Amira Rose Davis, Lynn Grubb, Susan Harris O'Connor, Soojung Jo, Mila Konomos, Kimberly McKee, Grace Newton, and Julie Stromberg, among many other adoptee authors.

Deanna Doss Shrodes released Restored: Pursuing Wholeness When a Relationship Is Broken, the followup to her previous memoir, Worthy To Be Found.

Restored brings forward the important truth that no matter what another person chooses to do, we as individuals can be restored, if we put ourselves in position to be. The book aims to be a spiritual template and a purposeful guide designed to help readers journey through their own restoration process.

These are just a few of the numerous books published by adoptee authors over the past several decades. Earlier this year I launched Adoptee Reading Resource, a website listing books written and recommended by adoptees. I invite you to discover new adoptee voices there, and I encourage you to support the publication of future adoptee books by buying one or two titles for yourself or to give as a gift. I believe the world of adoption will be made better through the amplification of our voices.

Karen Pickell was born and adopted in Ohio in the late 1960s. She reunited with her birth mother in 2005 and with her birth father in 2007. Her husband is an adoptive father of two children, now grown, from his first marriage, one of whom was adopted from Korea. Karen and her husband live in Florida with their two biological children. She holds a Master of Arts in Professional Writing from Kennesaw State University in Georgia; she has published poems, essays, and stories, and is currently working on a memoir. She previously served on the board of directors of the Georgia Writers Association, as editor for the Georgia Poetry Society, and as associate editor of the literary journal Flycatcher. Karen recently founded Adoptee Reading Resource. She blogs about writing, adoption, and other topics at

Rooted to Resiliency: Resources & Wish List for the Global Adoption Community

Today’s Prompt: What are your go-to resources for information on and support of adoptee concerns? Share the websites, magazines, books, movies, songs, artists, etc. that are most meaningful to you and that you feel would benefit fellow adoptees on their journeys. Is there something you wish someone would make that just isn’t out there? 

'ROOTED TO RESILIENCY' RESOURCES: Of the hundreds I could share, these are some of my all-time favourites! [For a more complete list of resources, please visit our ONE WORLD: Chinese Adoptee Links blog at]

Adopted, a doc by Barb Lee (one of my favourite adoption docs!)

Adoption Today Magazine
Adoptees United - The Netherlands
Chinese Adoptee Links (CAL) International
China’s Children International (CCI)
Deann Borshay Liem's films
I'm Legit (song by Zara Phillips, with DMC)

Land of Gazillion Adoptees (Online Magazine)
Ruthanne Lum McCunn's Thousand Pieces of Gold
The Music of Jared Rehberg
Transracial Adoptee Group (Facebook Group led by Mark Hagland)


(PLEASE NOTE: this list was compiled for THE LOST DAUGHTERS #flipthescript #NAM2015 with the help of my fabulous "big sister, "Martha Siddeley - Thank you, Martha, for brainstorming with me for hours about the needs of the adoption community! Martha was adopted domestically, and I was adopted internationally & transracially, so it was fascinating to compare notes and brainstorm about community needs together coming from our very different backgrounds, countries and adoption experiences.)

  • More Adoption History, Awareness & Education
  • More opportunities to interact with global adoption communities
  • More Organised Support for Child Bereavement (in general) on a Global Level
  • Opportunities for Global Adoption Leadership Conferences around the world for all members of the adoption community
  • Exchanging our stories in more intimate and interactive ways (across race, class, country & generations)
  • More post-adoption support for all triad members
  • More sophisticated language for the adoption experience, including a more nuanced language for "adoption loss"
  • Groups created by adopted individuals that not only gaze inwardly (focusing on adoption concerns), but also gaze outwardly, using adoption experiences as a platform for helping other communities around the world
  • MENTORSHIP Networks for the global adoption community
  • Search & Reunion Support Networks, Mentorship, and Coaching
  • Life Coaching...when you don't have access to your own roots!
  • Universal acknowledgement that adopted individuals have the RIGHT TO CHANGE THEIR MINDS -- even, and especially about, their own adoptions & adoption stories (several times if necessary) -- over the course of their lives! Universal acknowledgement that TOLERANCE & RESPECT is necessary to grow and foster a fantastic legacy for future generations of orphaned, fostered and adopted children.
  • Global Adoption 24/7 Hotline
  • THE LOST DAUGHTERS "ONE WORLD ORAL HISTORY LEGACY PROJECT" (concept created by Jennifer Jue-Steuck & Martha Siddeley) -- Why wait for historians to write about our lives? Why not record our own histories for a global archive, one interview at a time?  By interviewing one fellow adopted individual (or adoptive parent), you are depositing archives and records into our own global history bank. (More details to come.)

Jennifer's adoptive grandmother, LUCY JUE, 1911-1995, was also a Chinese adoptee. 



Interviewer: Jennifer Jue-Steuck

Name of Interviewee: Lucy Jue

 Place of Birth: Los Angeles, California

Orphaned: at age 7 (when both parents tragically died in the international influenza epidemic)

Date of Oral Interview: 1989 

Location of Interview: Laguna Beach, Orange County, California

Despite growing up in various foster families in Los Angeles before her later adoption, Lucy Jue became the first woman and the first person of colour to attend university in her Los Angeles community during the late 1920s. She graduated with a major in French from UCLA (on a full scholarship), and then boarded a steamship to teach English in Shanghai during the glamorous 1930s, when Shanghai was considered the "Paris of Asia."
[More details to come.]

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Now I understand that I was grieving in the same way someone who lost a loved one grieves around the anniversary of the event every year. Except my grief is not the death of a loved one, it is the absence of a loved one – the absence of the mother who carried me in her womb for nine months. The absence of a mother who kept me for the first two weeks of my life, and suddenly decided that she could not keep me, and left me alone. I am grieving for a biological maternal bond, I am grieving for my grandparents and lost genetics, I am grieving for the roots of my personality and intellect. I am grieving for the life I never had...."

Native Province: Taipei & Jiangsu (mainland China) Hometown: Laguna Beach (OC), California Arrived in the USA: Dec 1979 / Jan 1980 Education: NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts & Harvard Generation: G2, “A Global Generation” Proud Big Sister of: Chris (from Seoul, South Korea) Why This Blog: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” 
Helen Keller

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

I'm not who they say I am

Today's #flipthescript #NAM2015 prompt: If you were named by your birth mother, are you happy with the decision your adoptive parents made as to whether or not to keep your given name? Why or why not?
If you were not named by your birth mother or don’t know whether or not she named you, do you wish you were named by her? Why or why not?
Would you ever consider changing your name to incorporate some part of your original birth name or another name from your birth family? Why or why not?

“Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language”  ~Dale Carnegie

   I was born as Soojung in a country that looks, sounds, and smells very different that the United States.  As part of my adoption at age 3, I was renamed Raina, and that is the legal name I still use in everyday life.   

   Raina is a unique name, and I've never met anyone with the same name (although I've heard of others including Raina James from that Nashville show, and I've had 2 other Rainas named after me!).  As a young child I asked my mom why she chose this name, and her answer was simply that she liked the sound of it.  I searched for it in baby name books and--later when the internet was invented--online, only to find it was a possible derivative of the Spanish word reina, or queen.  

  Soojung seems to be neither common nor uncommon in Korea.  A couple years ago, after reuniting with my Korean family, omma told me the story of why she chose this name.  She became pregnant with me through an unthinkable ordeal, and she wanted a name for her child to transcend those origins.  Soojung means crystal in Korean, and it was an aspirational choice.

   Names are such a personal thing.  I see in my own children how to some degree their identities have formed around the names we gave them.  They, like their names, are unique, bold, confident, and racially diverse.  Whether we love or hate our names, they become an internalization or extension of our identities.  When we name our children, we exert tremendous and lasting influence on them.

   For adoptive parents who receive a child who already has a name, they face a dilemma.  Why would anyone re-name a person who already has a name?  Several reasons.

   First, adoptive parents have not only been deprived of biological creation, they are also denied the associate joy of naming their own children.  While the adoption process can't remedy the biological aspect, it does allow for a proxy of creation through re-naming.

   Second, naming is a way of exerting possession.  It's a way of forming a bond: Once this child has my name, they are mine and I am theirs.  As long as they retain the name given to them by someone else, that bond stands between us.

   Third, in some cases perhaps the child's name doesn't fit into the adoptive family's own identity.  The name is too "ethic," unique, or hard to pronounce.  The name doesn't reflect or honor the family's lineage or traditional naming conventions.

  I don't know if infants bond to their names right away, although they might.  In my own experience, I was given and called a name for three years, and I formed some sense of identity around it.  That identity, along with every other aspect of my life prior to arriving in the US, was discarded so that I could assume a new life, identity, and culture.  I believe that experience was damaging to me, and is likely to be damaging to other children.

   On the flip side of the argument, the name that mom gave me established a bond between us.  It allowed her to connect more closely to me, and I knew that she had specially chosen that name for me.  I also believe that my life in the US may have been more difficult if I'd been raised as Soojung in the town of Shepherdsville, KY.  I'll never know.

   I'm intensely happy to know that omma named me with great love and thoughtfulness, and the name Soojung is like a secret, true identity I always carry inside.  I'm happy that mom gave me a name as a way of embracing me into her family.  I'm also heartbroken that I lost so much of my original identity and history when I lost my Korean name, and I don't particularly care of my American name.

   For an adoptee, something as simple as a name, which many take for granted, can be a complex and emotional issue.  I'll never fully realize either of my names, because they are separate aspects of me and my journey.  I'm neither Soojung nor Raina, and yet I'm both but not fully.  In some ways my names feel like those of an actor who has assumed some identity for an audience, but who can slip into another.

   Those who call me Soojung know some of me, and those who call me Raina know some of me too. But if you call me by one name or another, remember that I'm not really who you say I am.  I'm less and more.  I'm neither and both.

Soojung Jo is the author of Ghost of Sangjuand has contributed to several adoption-related anthologies. She has an American family that raised her and a Korean family that lost and found her. Both families met in 2013. Find her at or on Facebook as Soojung Jo.


I was named Emily Patricia by my birth mother. I don’t know the story of why she picked Emily, but I do know that the middle name—Patricia—is her first name. I’ve heard that is common practice, for a birth mother to put her name in the child’s name, either first or middle, as though to keep a piece of herself with the child she may never see again. Also knowing that the adoptive parents can, and often do, change the name.

In a letter she left in the adoption file for me, she addressed me affectionately by “Em”. In a blink I can call to mind her sloping E and tight little m easily, so touched was I by the nickname. Such familiarity, given by the person I’d known the longest in the world at that time and from whom I would be separated. She had probably whispered the name in my ear those first days after birth when we had brief contact before relinquishment.

I can say in the same breath that adoption caused grief and complicated things at various points in my life and that I was very much blessed by my adoptive family. I’m sad that I didn’t get to grow up as Emily, though I’m happy in many ways that I grew up as Liberty. Strictly in terms of names, I like my adoptive name better. It’s more unique (though as a youngster there were times I hated its uniqueness, of course). Often when I tell people what my original name had been, they say, “You’re not an Emily!” Of course I’m not. They’ve only ever known me by my other given name.

Also, Emily, to me, feels like a very white name. I’m sure there are African American Emilys out there, but it seems rare overall. Liberty does not announce a particular race in my opinion. If anything, it seems uber “American” to some—as evidenced by how many people asked me if I were born on the fourth of July. That is not, in fact, why my parents chose it—they liked the meaning they’d found: freedom, in Christ.

Although Emily Patricia isn’t my favorite name, I do find the attachment with my birth mother special. The fact that it was her name for me and it included her. My adoptive parents are present in my current name, as well as my husband (I took his last name upon marriage.) It’s unfortunate that there wasn’t any footprint of my birth father, Rodney, in any of my names. There’s a loss in that absence. He recently passed away, before he was able to meet his only granddaughter, but one thing he’d told me was that he loved the name we’d picked for her. It was his favorite name, he said. It was like I had telepathy and could read his mind, because that’s the name he would have picked, he said. He often spoke in magnified terms like that, but I knew he was being honest. I hadn’t known that when we were hunting for the perfect name, and actually she was named in honor of a grandmother on my husband’s side, but I smile every time I’m reminded that it’s a name he would have chosen. His footprint is there, in her bones and breath and in her name too.

There’s the notion that to name something is to make it yours. Perhaps this is why so many adoptive parents change the names of the children they adopt. I can understand this. Naming feels like an important “rite of passage” as a parent. It took my husband and me months to settle on a name for our daughter. We began calling her by name before she arrived into the world and I’ll always remember how special that felt.

My name’s journey mimics the journey of my life in some ways. Loss, acceptance, choice, family, footprints.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Complexities of Transnational, Transracial Adoptee Identities

Today’s Prompt: If you are an intercountry or transracial adoptee, talk about how you view yourself in relation to your families, your friends and peers, and the community you either grew up in or live in now. If you were adopted from a country outside the U.S., do you identify as an immigrant? Where/how do you find resources to fill the gaps in your cultural identity formation?

In adulthood, transracial adoptees of color find themselves rendered just another person of color as they exist outside of the boundaries of white privilege offered by their white parents. Often adoptive parents with children of color overlook or are unaware of the fact that the protections offered by white privilege fail to confer themselves on their children. The white supremacy and racism that permeates society leaves adoptees just as vulnerable as other people of color. I cannot emphasize this point enough as discourses of colorblindness and multiculturalism historically silenced adoptees’ discussions of racism.

My remarks prior to the opening plenary session, “#BlackLivesMatter and its Significance to Adoptive Families,” at the 2015 annual KAAN (the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Parent Network) conference reflects my commitment to locating adoptees of color within contemporary discussions of race in the U.S. To set the stage for discussion and conversation between Honorable Judge Judy Preddy Draper, Shannon Gibney, Robert O’Connor, and Susan Harris O’Connor, I noted:

We recognize the importance of discussing issues such as white privilege, racial profiling in policing, and the impact of implicit bias within our families. We also realize that transracial and international adoptive families cannot overlook the role racism and race have in the lives of adoptees.

Transracial adoptees of color are ensconced in white privilege and simultaneously exist in black and brown bodies capable of experience the violence that has taken the lives of countless Americans as a result of racism. They may live in families where extended family are complicit in racism against people of color and view them as exceptions.

Adoptees of color regardless of origin share many parallel memories of dissonance and racism. Addressing the importance of coalitions, Amy Mihyang Ginther wrote the post, “Why Asian Adoptees Need to Give a Shit about #BlackLivesMatter.” We need to have real, honest conversations about the role of race and white privilege in transracially adoptive families. I am continually reminded when I am with my family that we don’t look alike through small things or moments that some may overlook. As I have previously discussed, I have a history of negotiating what it means to lack visible family ties within my adoptive family. For many adoptees, asserting their identities as adopted persons is complex. It involves negotiating other people’s expectations about what one should think or act. This is not to say that adult adoptees are not striving to empower future generations (e.g. Dear Wonderful You: Letters to Adopted and Fostered Youth).

For international transracial adoptees, the discussion of how racial difference and race functions within the adoptive family also must incorporate discussions of how adoptees are situated within their respective diasporas. Transnational adoptees historically are an overlooked diasporic community. Often these adoptees are viewed outside of understandings of immigration to the United States. Yet, these children as unaccompanied minors are some of the youngest migrants entering the nation. Their experiences in predominately transracial families mark them a distinct sub-group of Asian, African, and Latino Americans.

As an adoptee from South Korea, I grappled with my location as an Asian American since childhood. This is not to say that I did not identity as Korean or Asian. Rather, I was unsure of where I fit. This was a time when the only Asian American female role models on television were Connie Chung, Margaret Cho, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Michelle Kwan. Families like mine were not on television. And, as we remember, the only Asian American family on television at the time only lasted one season.

Not until college did I start examining my location within the broader Asian American community. I chartered the first Asian-interest sorority in the District of Columbia, what is now the Pi Chapter of Sigma Psi Zeta Sorority, Inc. I participated in the Asian Student Alliance. I also interned at a women of color organization as I negotiated my positioning as a person of color. These experiences provided me a framework to locate where adoptees fit into wider discussions of communities of color. Transracial adoptees represent a unique perspective given the fact that they grew up in predominately white families. These years also facilitated soul searching of what it means to be Asian American when everyone assumes this identity is only available to individuals raised by their biological/social parents of Asian descent.

Families like mine disrupted assumptions of what it means to be Asian American. I have distinct memory of being a freshmen in college walking back to my dorm room and when white peer decided to play the “where are you from” game. When he finally exhausted all of the possibilities, I said, “well, I’m adopted.” And his response was, “so your parents are American.” That moment captured the conflation between whiteness and being American as well as highlighted how I simultaneously existed and outside of my parents’ status as both Americans and white. Over a decade later, this short interaction stays with me.

I have only recently come to negotiate where I fit within the broader Korean diaspora. This consideration of what it means to be a diasporic subject is fueled both by my scholarly interests in adoption and my reunion with my biological family in 2013. The South Korea I returned to in 2007 for the first time and then again in 2010 and 2011 is no longer the same. I am no longer another Korean adoptee returning in search of something. Instead, I am adoptee who returns and sees herself as belonging as part of a family. Yet, even as I gain access to a diasporic identity, the fact that I lack cultural capital and proficient fluency in the language renders me outside of the nation.

Adoption is complex and nuanced. It requires great care as we reflect and consider how the past informs the present and how these moments today influence the future. Racial, ethnic, and cultural identities are ever changing and in flux. They are not permanent and static. The fluidity of identity is what allows adoptees like myself the ability to locate ourselves as persons of color and members of the diaspora.