Growing Up as an Adoptee

For National Adoption Month, I wanted to share a little bit about my experience being adopted, and how it has impacted my life through a series of short snippets ingrained in my memory.

Not to divulge too much information, but I was adopted from a rural province of China during the middle of the one-child policy by my loving, American mother. What I want to emphasize is that I can only speak on my own experiences, I am not a spokesperson or advocate who can speak on behalf of the larger population of adopted children. However, just like every other adoptee, what makes me unique is not that fact that I was adopted, but rather it is how my experiences have shaped me.


From Before I Can Remember

Each year at Christmas, my family loves to tell the same stories over and over again. From stories here is what I know: When my mother adopted me in China, it took me several days to warm up to her or my aunt who accompanied her on the trip. My mom said she was worried about me being a depressed child because I would not smile or laugh. It turns out, I just needed time to trust her because one day, something finally clicked, and from that day forward I would not stop smiling and laughing. Still, my family makes fun of me for being such a happy and excitable kid, and they constantly bring up how I routinely would laugh myself to sleep.


Childhood

I remember vividly the first time I felt pity and otherness when telling people I was adopted. It was my first week of first grade at a brand new “big kid school”. I had just turned 5 years old. We all brought in photos of our family for show and tell, and I was showing a photo of just my mother and I smiling in our Arizona State Sun Devils t-shirts. One kid raised his hand and asked why my dad wasn’t in the photo. I just said I didn’t have a dad, and then he replied saying that’s humanly impossible because all kids need a mom and a dad to be born. That day I learned a few things: (1) how babies are made, (2) that (at least in 2000) kids thought “real” families needed a mom and dad, and (3) I would always have to defend the wholeness, love, and normalcy of my family for the rest of my life.


The “Pre-Teen” Phase

The summer before 6th grade, I went to overnight camp with my friends for two weeks. It was one of those fine arts camps up in Maine with equestrian, circus arts, glass blowing, etc, and it drew in campers from all over the world. I remember one day we were waiting in line at a candle making workshop, and we were talking about my birthday that was coming up. I said my mom was going to come up to visit. Of course a kid asked “what about your dad”? When I explained to her that my mom adopted me by herself, she was shocked. What was truly unexpected though were her tears after I had to explain that I do not know who my birth parents are or why they gave me up for adoption. This was when I learned that to some people, my story may sound “tragic”.


My Young Adult Years

My entire childhood was pretty picturesque, and I will not deny that I was very spoiled. I loved my childhood, and I would not change a single thing about it. I got to travel the world, go to the best schools and summer programs, never wanted for much, really had no “rules”, and I had always been best friends with my mom. While some may have called me a clingy child, I was always happy, sometimes too happy even. However, moving to the west coast for college was a rude awakening. I had never felt so isolated in my life, and issues I had pushed into the darkest depths of my subconscious had begun to bubble up to the surface. Ultimately, it became so severe that I had barely passed a few classes, left school, and moved back home with my mom after the first semester. After extensive therapy and a “gap semester” I acknowledged and addressed my abandonment and attachment issues.


Adulthood

Now, I use the term adulthood loosely because at the age of 25, I still consider myself a child. Regardless, I love my life and where I am in it. I love my family and friends, the experiences I've been granted, and the work I have contributed to RepLI and public health.


Working in family planning, I have had more time to reflect on my reproductive life goals and journey than anyone else I know. At this point in my life, I am engaged, and I am considering my life plan. In a previous post, I said that I want 1.5 kids. Growing up in a small home, I want the same kind of bond with my child that I had with my mother. Something I debate regularly though is adoption or biological children. This is my newest challenge as an adoptee, but I know that RepLI will help guide me, regardless of what I decide.