After my own reunion, when I came across the blog of another transracial adoptee who had been through reunion, I asked the question: “How did it go?”
Much like me, that fellow adoptee had a very limited vocabulary. Much like me, that fellow adoptee’s original parents did not speak English.
Yet I still asked “How did it go?”
I mean, obviously, it went well by the sheer fact they were lucky enough to go through with reunion, same like me. It went well by the fact that original parents and adoptees are not “supposed” to be reunited and that family ties should not be broken. It went well because reunion is a privileged opportunity, ironically hosted upon by the loss because the original parents could not afford to take care of their child in the first place.
I think, on some subconscious level, I might have been asking: “Did you struggle? Please tell you struggled. And then please tell me how you made it better.”
Of course they struggled, just like me. Of course they felt frustrated and overwhelmed, just like me. My [adoptive] parents would occasionally ask me how my visits were going (it is probably intriguing to hear about reunion between parents and an adult child who do not speak a common language effectively), and then they would ask if I felt classes were helping, or my dictionary/phrasebooks helped at all, and what my parents felt.
I don’t know what my parents felt, because I couldn’t ask them, and for all the good it did – not being able to understand them – they couldn’t tell me.
Looking back on it, I would ask these other transracial adoptees how they handled the language barrier. I would ask them if they ever felt it improved. I would ask them if they ever felt hopeless.
Because if I would “just” take language classes, make foreign friends, do language exchanges, study my textbooks… shouldn’t that all result in improving?
It can, and it does.
But it wasn’t enough. It was ‘better’, sure, but it wasn’t ‘good enough.’ It wasn’t ‘good enough’ because it was surface-level exchanges reminiscent of a toddler just learning to talk. So I asked them to share their struggles so we could relate.
I asked the to share their frustrations and reflections about how they would integrate this new aspect into their lives, if at all possible. I wanted to hear how they had “made it better.” I didn’t have the answer, and some tiny part of me thought they might. I wanted them to help me feel like less of a lost cause, and I still couldn’t figure out the answer.
The answer was: “You will never be able to communicate in the way you wanted to.”
The answer was: “Your original parents did not raise you so you will not communicate in the way you would have, had you not been adopted.”
The answer was: “You can try your utmost hardest, but you learning as an adult is not the same as being immersed in your birth country all your life.”
It’s the equivalent of being told “Your parents will always be frustrated in their limits to communicate with you, and no amount of language learning will ever compensate for that.”
No one wants to hear that, or at least, no one wants to hear that without having some sort of conflicting emotion. When I asked “How did things go for you? Please share your struggles”, what I was really asking was how to make things better. How to make it hurt less. How to feel like my effort meant something.
Unfortunately, there is no satisfactory answer to that.
It hit me earlier today that I have not inwardly been at peace since August 2006. There have been moments where I was temporarily able to forget, times where I fully immersed in my own life and almost completely forgot about the other side of the world.
Ever since that initial letter which revealed I had a younger sister, I have not been able to rest. I could not stop thinking about her ghost presence in my life, and mine in hers, and to this day, I still can’t. There were times where my parents would be sitting out back and saying what a good life it was.
“It’s a good life, isn’t it?” my mom says, lightly clinking her wine glass against Dad’s as they toast the contented feeling of the late evening. “Good family, a good home, delicious food… what more could you ask for?”
It leaves me wondering, what about my other family? Would they have wanted the type of two-story home in Canada? Would they have wanted to sit out back on a beautiful porch and enjoy a glass of wine? Would they have wanted a lovely garden to gaze upon after their work shifts?
It’s a sense of peace that I have not fully been able to enjoy, because I know what it’s like on the other side of the world. I always wonder, would I have hated it there that much? If I’m supposedly in such a better country, what exactly would I have disliked so much in Taiwan? Would I have hated the drills of education? Would I have hated my job? Would I have had no time to spend with friends at nightmarkets? Or would it have been an “It is what it is” mindset, resigned to a life of endless drills and hard labour?
I tried to shut that part of me off. I didn’t write about it. My siblings and I stopped conversing for several months at a time. It was serene and quiet and beautiful. And it worked, for an extended period of time.
Unfortunately, it always springs back up. I can no longer enjoy simple, peaceful scenes after dinner in the same way, because I know what was “left behind.”
For the past six years, the knowledge has forever changed the way I viewed my own adoption: I was supposed to be the second sibling to my parents. But my very lack of presence frequently makes me feel as if I’m just a trade-off.
I am a ghost child to my own parents. I am the daughter they didn’t raise. I’m a citizen that was socially reconstructed. I’m the classmate who never went to elementary school. I’m the ghost child who was never babysat when my parents went to work longer shifts. I’m the sister that my brother couldn’t even remember because he was too little. I’m the sibling who doesn’t live there. I’m the ghost sibling no one “really” knows about, because who wants to admit their mother had to give up a child?
I am supposed to feel good about this because they loved me so much they even had another child to substitute for me, as I learned very quickly, and made me question my own self-worth so many times. Adoption tells me to feel good about the fact I was raised by another set of parents and I am privileged to be alive.
People have wanted to make me feel better. They say to me, look at what you have. When they learn about my specific situation, they imply sentiments such as, how can you possibly feel second-best, Mei-Ling, when it is so clearly a win-win for everyone involved? My mother wanted a girl, and she was lucky enough to have Xiao-Ping after me. How else was I supposed to interpret that? The truth is there are no platitudes which would have made me feel better. According to everyone else, I am supposed to be happy for everyone involved in the entire concept of adoption because after all, my mother was lucky enough to birth my sister, and my mom got to adopt me.
I’m always aware on some level that I was supposed to be there. But my very lack of presence frequently makes me feel as if I’m just a trade-off. I am supposed to be happy about this. I am supposed to be happy my mother gave me away (Only shitty/abusive parents give up their kids…) and I am supposed to be happy that my mom picked me to love and care for (Because your own mother gave you away).
It does not detract that my Canadian parents have always loved me and raised me as if born to them. It doesn’t make my Canadian life have any less meaning or indicate I should feel like a failure in the jobs, education and relationships I have achieved. It doesn’t mean I didn’t grow up happy and fulfilled or that I hated my family.
But deep down adoption feels off. I mean if you really delve into it, adoption feels off. On an unconscious level, I think many of us realize how contradictory our sentiments and platitudes sound, but it’s so raw and ugly that it’s easier to suppress them. Because let’s face it – who gives up their children? Who substitutes one sibling for another? Who splits biological siblings? Since when does one give up family or people – children – that they love?
I look back at my thoughts and feelings as a young child; it feels wrong and dissonant. And when hearing misconceptions about adoption and being told about how I should feel, it gets lonely. People have asked me “Would you rather be dead?” to which I reply “According to society, I would have been dead because either my mother could have aborted me or I would have rot in the streets”… and then they get all defensive and imply I am bitter, angry and hateful.
Adoption is supposed to feel beautiful and happy and glorious, and I don’t feel like it is. It’s the gift I didn’t ask for. It’s the gift I don’t want, even though I treasure all the good things that resulted from it.
I’m not living in peace because I’m always aware that if my very birth hadn’t been so expensive, I would be the daughter living there instead. I’m always aware that she took my place. I’m always aware that my existence is marked by my non-presence. I’m always aware that the parents who gave me up know so little about me that they may as well not know me at all.
It never ends.
Okay, so you want to know why I don’t like adoption?
It turns out Gege is going to have another baby boy. I can only assume this is true because of the ultrasound photos on his wife’s Facebook feed. I also caught the character 第第. I knew this months ago, well more like guessed at it, really. I can barely read their Facebook statuses and spent several minutes trying to translate something that only a conversationally-fluent person would be able to read.
See, I don’t like it because we celebrate lineage and bloodlines and heritage and all of that is important… unless of course you are adopted and cut off from your own family tree. People will tell me, but what about your adoptive family? Don’t they count?
Sure they do, and it’s super cool to see my dad’s face reflected in my grandparents’ photos and how his sister has his mother’s resemblances but they aren’t literally of my heritage. And conveniently, somehow, in adoption, this ceases to matter, because my worth as a person suddenly doesn’t mean anything unless it is tied to what was given to me through adoption. Family resemblance is amazing and “S/he looks just like you!” is wonderful in hospitals or when researching family ancestry yet somehow in adoption…. it doesn’t matter. Hell, many people don’t even realize this because it’s just there. That familial resemblance and of belonging is just automatically there with them.
But in adoption it doesn’t matter because as an infant my value lies in being exchanged between families without consequence.
I should be happy for him, in the way I would say “Congratulations” to the obligatory relative who has just announced s/he will be having a baby. I don’t even get the dignity of being told I’ll have another blood-related nephew. I’m supposed to be cheery and celebrating and telling everyone about the news.
Instead I am yelling at Gege in my head. I am yelling at Xiao-Ping who can’t take two seconds to confirm if Dasao is pregnant. And mostly, I am yelling at adoption which has effectively cost me from ever knowing who they are. And instead, I end up writing a full-on rant to my good friend Lika via e-mail while trying to hold in the tears. So please tell me how I should be happy about adoption, again?
“I’m the one who made all the effort. I’m the one who visited twice and went to Mandarin immersion for an accumulative four semesters. I’m the one who managed to get her Mandarin up to survival-conversational and nothing to show for it except for my own word which doesn’t seem like much. I’m the one who can sit there and take photos and talk baby-talk in Mandarin and meanwhile my mom e-mails me the next day asking me how did it go and do I feel I can communicate better and are my parents frustrated with me.”
No, it’s not better. No, I can’t communicate better. Yes, my parents get frustrated with me. Kind of hard to communicate well when you’ve lost over twenty years with a family that didn’t raise you.
I’m supposed to be happy for them.
But I just can’t.
We had my niece (over for dinner a few weeks ago) and my mom volunteered to get her whatever her favourite meat is. Niece chose pepper steaks.
We somehow got onto the topic of what I like because the three of them like pepper wrapped steaks whereas I don’t like anything spicy, and everyone is always reacting like my tastes have personally affronted them. I constantly get told to “try it” because it was ten, fifteen, twenty years ago and apparently I am so silly because as a young child I loved spicy things so as an adult, what the hell is so wrong with me now?
During a previous family friend visit, we got onto the topic of burgers and condiments as we were eating sausages and the friend remarked how I was eating my sausages plain.
Mom: She’s so silly. She used to love condiments and burgers and now she won’t touch them.
Me: Because I don’t like ground meat!
Mom: I don’t know why you don’t, it’s steak.
Me: I don’t like the texture.
Mom: But you won’t even try it
Me: I don’t need to, I remember how it tastes. Here, why don’t we go out to a seafood place and feed you oysters?
Mom: No thanks, they’re disgusting
Me: Have you tried them?
Me: Well, do you see me saying “Just try them” over and over again? Do you see me saying “What’s wrong with you”? No, because I respect that you don’t like eating them. You’ve said you don’t like them, and I respect that. I’m not taking it as a personal offfence.
Mom: … I know, you’re right.
So then last night Mom gave me a forkful of pepper steak despite her knowing I don’t like lots of pepper. Apparently I should stop being silly and magically like things I have never liked. I remember the taste and no one ever believes me, so then they practically shove it in my face and demand I try it. When I do so and don’t like it, they take it back and claim they “don’t understand me” – as if my tastes have personally affronted them.
Mom: Here. Try it.
Me: *tries it* It’s burning my mouth!
Mom: OMG Fine. I’ll take it.
Me: It was burning my mouth T_T
Mom: Asians love spicy things, what’s the matter with you?
Me: (Well, isn’t that convenient for you to say!) Well, I don’t.
Dad: Yeah most Asians eat spicy things
Me: Maybe Koreans do
Mom: (teasingly) Oh, that’s just racist
Whoa whoa, so saying stuff like “Koreans love spicy food” is racist, but saying “Asians love spicy food” isn’t?
Wow, double standards, much?
My siblings couldn’t be assed to type out 生日快樂 on my Facebook wall.
It would take them, oh, all of two seconds. LITERALLY. I may be deficient in my Chinese input but even I can type out those characters in two seconds. Seriously, there’s no excuse! I forgot Xiao-Ping’s birthday last year but the Facebook feed literally notified me it was her birthday. I hopped over to her wall and left a message saying “Happy Birthday.”
IT TOOK ME TWO SECONDS
You know how tempting it is to write a status saying: “Apparently it is too difficult for my brother and sister to take two seconds and write Happy Birthday”?
*Not my real weight at birth, obviously
I have a friend who learned I was adopted about a year ago. We have become very close; I told him that I have always known I was adopted and that I went overseas twice to meet my biological family.
I never went into the reasons for my adoption. It was none of his business. To his credit he did acknowledge that some of the stuff in my adoption experience was probably very personal to me and that I wouldn’t want to showcase it all, and of course, like every other friend I have spoken to about adoption, sees it as a lucky and amazing thing. I try not to talk about the intimacy of my reunion to him and have never told him why I was adopted; he does not need to know every last confidential detail.
My parents decided to go into Narration Mode about their overseas experiences and being white, my friend asked why they ended up going overseas. Well, they decided to adopt me, so of course that was a major factor. They also seem perfectly content to broadcast every detail about what caused my adoption (without specifically saying “She was adopted because XYZ”) and well, anyone with half a brain can connect the dots. On this particular day they decided to go into detail about how I first realized I was Chinese.
It is frustrating because I wish they would not speak on my behalf. In fact I wish they would not speak for me at all. If I wanted to discuss the concept of racism living in a white society, I would bring up the topic myself.
“Well then, maybe you should speak up for yourself. Perhaps you should talk about your adoption experience if it irks you to hear other people narrating.”
You want to know something?
Maybe, just maybe… I don’t want to narrate my life story to every new person.
Not because I am embarrassed or ashamed. But because it’s my story. My life. My details.
OK, I can understand people being told I was adopted because they’re really just going to connect the dots on their own. I’m cool with that because it’s not entirely unreasonable for people to be curious. But maybe I don’t want to go into details about my adoption/reunion or how wonderful it was because just fucking maybe those details ARE MINE and I don’t care if you’re my mom’s best friend or even if you’re my significant other – those belong to me and you don’t need to know every last detail of how I weighed [900lbs]* at birth (and how much it cost to adopt).
It’s almost like I’m that little six-year-old girl again who doesn’t have any say in the matter because it’s very, very obvious how everyone expects to hear how validated adoptive parents are in the way they chose to have me in their lives. I’m that little “exotic” Chinese doll in the corner everyone is talking about and I want to hate my birthparents for just tossing me out of their lives because I’m an inconvenience to their lifestyle and it’s easier to hate a country for rejecting me. It’s easier to feel such distaste and loathing towards a set of nameless figures who abandoned you.
Oh, sure, I am physically allowed to express my dissent in that my adoption/reunion wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine, but it is very clear I am discouraged for thinking that way. I am permitted an opinion but only as long as it validates everyone else’s roles which are reliant upon me having been adopted.
What did my adoption do for my Taiwanese parents? Well, according to everyone else on the adoptive side, it removed my inconvenient birth. Literally. Because anything else which contradicts that pretty much invalidates “everyone else’s roles which are reliant upon me having been adopted.”
So when I hear someone narrate my adoption experience for me, all I can think back to is my 2009 visit, and I cringe. I cringe because I remember. I remember all the things from my Taiwanese family’s side, and sometimes I don’t want to remember. Sometimes I wish I could forget the ability to recall what it felt like, because 2009 irrevocably changed me. Because it was easier to just be grateful back then.
I cringe because I remember the way my Taiwanese parents looked at me and told me how happy they were I had returned. I cringe because my sister has told me repeatedly that I should be happy I am on the “good side” which means I can’t exist there because me being there is a reminder of her substitution. No one knows this or wants to know this. I’m the one who experienced it, I’m the one who remembers all this and it contradicts just about everything I have internalized my entire life regarding my life story.
And sometimes I wish I hadn’t discovered that either.
I get to hear how irrelevant my thoughts and feelings are when put on display. My details about my birth? My entire reason for why I was adopted? Let’s showcase them for my friend to hear about. Let’s completely and utterly disregard any privacy regarding my life story because it is so amazing that I was given the chance for a better life by people who wanted me.
Oh come on, let’s not pass up the chance to remind me how little control I actually have over my own life story.
Because this is the message you, as society, have sent me, time and time again:
“This is how pitiful you were at birth, so pitiful your own blood kin couldn’t even support you. You’re not allowed to have your own thoughts & feelings about what caused your adoption because another set of parents took you in, otherwise you’d be dead.”
I remember a few years ago, questioning an adoptive parent about if they realized they were sending me this message. I mean, are people aware they are sending this sentiment at all? Or do they know on some level and just… don’t care?
AP: Your parents (the ones who raised you) took you in. Doesn’t that matter to you?
Me: I love straw-men fallacies. Just because I love my parents doesn’t mean I can’t feel sad I wasn’t raised by my biological parents or have a dissenting opinion about my adoption.
AP: Well if they hadn’t adopted you, you’d be dead or in the streets somewhere.
Me: Wow, thank you for reminding me what a burden I am. I know, I am so privileged to even be alive because my birthparents “couldn’t do it” for me. Man, if I believed this every time someone said this to me, I may as well believe I shouldn’t exist at all!
AP: You sound very bitter
AP: What did your parents do or not do to make you feel this way?
Me: Well, there’s your mistake. Believing that I am a robot and cannot possibly have thoughts or feelings of my own just because they don’t align with how my parents raised me. You haven’t read adoptee blogs, have you?
AP: No no I don’t mean… of course you have your own thoughts and feelings… but who you are raised by has the most influence on you.
Me: Not necessarily.
Me: OK, time to be serious. My parents did a good job raising me and supporting me. You telling me to be grateful is akin to saying I should be happy to breathe oxygen.
AP: I think you’ve got this all wrong.
Me: Not really. I’ve had plenty of people reminding me I’d be dead if not for my adoptive parents taking me in. My response is to say “Oh, well, maybe I should have never been born” and then like you, they get offended and imply I am just bitter. It is quite literally telling me I am a burden for even being alive, and that’s not fair to me as a person. Having it implied that you are a burden and not supposed to be alive is quite insulting – so what else am I supposed to think? If that isn’t what the message is supposed to be, I’d love to hear what was actually intended.
AP: I just mean, your parents obviously did a good job raising you as you are very articulate, so doesn’t that count at all?
Me: And? My parents did a good job raising me and that’s what they are supposed to do. That’s why they are my parents. They are not the end-all and be-all of my adoption experience.
I get it already, I know what everyone expects to hear, I know that my existence as an adopted person must validate all the wonderful aspects of adoption. I know I’m the chosen child. I know that my existence is proof that I was fated for other people’s rationale as living proof for [insert reason here].
I’ve been receiving that message as early as I can recall; I am privileged to even be alive.
I had taken a few photos of my sister’s old bedroom. (I also have a few photos of my brother’s old bedroom; it still has some of his university textbooks and papers.)
I apparently either deemed those photos as garbage, as there was nothing noteworthy on them, or I uploaded them to my computer and then misplaced and/or accidentally deleted them. If memory serves me correctly, there was nothing left after the move except some old garbage bins, a bed, a few posters and a pile of laundry anyway.
But foolishly, I had deleted those photos.
There’s nothing left to indicate what their lives were like there; everything was transferred to the new place. When I walked into the old place, I felt “displaced.” I kept touching things, taking photos and observing things; trying to figure out what couldn’t have possibly been conveyed in a language I didn’t know. I felt like a ghost with memories I didn’t have, neighbours who thought I was my sister and a lifestyle I will never know of.
This blog post has made me tear up.
We are the ones who grew up with damaged parents and phantom brothers and sisters. We are the ones who were held so tightly that it was hard to breathe. Maybe we are the consolation prize. Maybe we competed (unknowingly) with the blushing little cherub she lost. Fact is, we are the generation left to clean up the radiation after the nuclear disaster.
Was that you, dear sister?
Is that what it was like for you growing up?
I know I was the “original” sister, but that doesn’t change the fact that it really just sucks to not have been kept. It’s particularly strong today to the point where I wish I could google their lives and find some sort of evidence that those years existed out of a dusty old apartment filled with old clothes and empty garbage bags from when they moved to the new district.