Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Adopted Babies Grieve*

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.