Personal

Adoptee.

Rorschach

I watched World War Z this Monday (finally), and I came away with two things.

  1. I miss dressing in a post-apocalyptic friendly manner: biker boots, thick denim with long johns underneath, oversized tee shirts and leather jackets. Also known as Washingtonian Fall/Winter attire. These flimsy silk dresses, satin boudoir shorts, crepe silk joggies, and heeled sandals that are basically my staple wardrobe items would have me hungry for brains within minutes.
  2. I battle abandonment issues just as strongly as our character Gerry does with the undead.

I have always known I’ve been adopted; I can’t recall a specific moment in time where my parents sat me down and explained that I had not physically come from them-I just always seemed to know. I’m sure conversations were had from the earliest moments of my understanding so that it would not come as a shock later in life, but really how could it? I was a Vietnamese, almond-eyed, black downy haired baby with Polish and English adoptee parents. I’ve known the story of why I was given up for adoption from the beginning, and although it’s not pretty-it’s real. I know the truth, and there’s comfort in that.

I  was adopted at the moment of birth in Seattle at Swedish Hospital, with my adoptive mother (I hate calling her that-Sheila is my mom-my only mother really) being the first to hold me as soon as I left my birth mother’s vaginal canal. The mother to be had her best friend in the birthing room-Chris Trautman, who is now as family to me- an aunt of sorts. My dad, who was working in Malaysia at the time, held me two weeks later in the airport and the photograph of this first meeting haunts and enchants me to this day. Sometimes people do actually think Sheila is my natural birth mother, saying we have similar features and share the same nuances. I must say this is true in some ways, that I happily continue to see more and more of her qualities in myself, whether in personality or ideology, which has me sitting smack dab in the middle of the fence regarding nature versus nurture.

For years I thought that since I had never experienced any apparent emotional tearing from my birth mother, I wouldn’t experience abandonment issues that many adoptive children go through, maybe because they were separated from their birth parents later in childhood and I had never had a moment in the world with my birth mother. I never wanted to send my birth parents a letter hoping for a response, I never even felt a real connection to other adoptive children. It was more like a discussion about sharing once owning a guinea pig of the same color or having a similar quality of health to a slight extent, like “oh you’re Blood Type B too? Cool.”- and that would be the end of the discussion.  Even as our close family friend, Helen-who has an adopted son, urged me to delve deeper into my emotions and adoptive history while I was struggling as a teen and that it may possibly have to do with my adoption, I just didn’t think there could be any sort of correlation. In researcher and scholar Karl Stenske’s book The Hidden Life of an Adopted Child: Understanding the Impact of Adoption, he states that “adoption is a trauma that happens to a child. The child is torn away from her biological mother, placed in the arms of strangers and is left with questions, doubts, fears and anxiety with no way to verbalize, express, mourn or contextualize those feelings. Though the common misconception is that a child won’t remember any of it many psychologists believe, with evidence to support, that children remember their birth and the following events, including relinquishment and adoption, up to the age of three.”  While I can’t fully stand by his studies-because really, how am I ever really supposed to know what went through my memory the moment I entered this world? Who can? (Well, it’s an argument being made by scientists worldwide-but I won’t get into that.) I must say the idea and his findings have made their way into my consideration and that maybe that since an invisible emotional cord may have been severed, the after effects of that may demonstrate themselves through specific actions and emotions through my current live choices and actions.

As time has gone on and events continue to occur and different emotions begin to arise stemming from particular events, I have started to bate my cynicism when it comes to the “adoption abandonment” idea. I began to think, “what if I really am affected by being adopted somehow-in some way?” The more I explored this idea, thought back on past relationships-both romantic and platonic-and triggers, both positive and negative-the more I realized that I do in many ways hold the qualities of an adoptee that has a deep sense of abandonment.

I can barely listen to the theme songs of The Land Before Time, Oliver and Company, and The Fox and The Hound without bursting into tears, in any sort of apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic film I find myself on the verge of a slight panic attack in some scenes-not because of flesh eating zombies or organs hanging out of open flesh like laundry spilling out of a dropped suitcase, but the thought of becoming separated from loved ones with no chance for any sort of reunion. I’ve tended to leave people before they have the chance to leave me, I guilt myself for years after letting a rabbit die or leaving a cat behind, and my ability to turn Vulcan-like in a situation of saying goodbye is not because of lack of affection or emotion, but trying to steel my demeanor so that I won’t break down into a puddle of teary hysterics, clutching at a handkerchief at train preparing to depart-metaphorically.

Throughout my childhood and into late adolescence, my parents struggled with my constant need for their validation and attention, even though I naturally prefer time in solitude, there would always be something that kept me on their radar. When I was younger, the need to excel in school was so strong that I would (stereotypically for an Asian) cry all throughout the night when receiving a B+ on a paper in the fourth grade. By the time I found myself in the sixth year of school, grades couldn’t have meant less to me. Instead, I rebelled in any way I could-just toeing the line of anything serious. By high school, I threw myself into a full-fledged mutiny. Living in what I felt was constant unhappiness and revolt against my parents; I usually acted out through petty theft, banshee screaming matches with my mother, blatant disobeying, and owning very little self worth. A 2001 study shows that out of adoptees from grades seven through twelve, 7.6% adoptees attempt suicide comparative to their non-adopted peers. While I’m blessed it never had to come to these depths for me personally, therapists were involved when I began to spiral out of control.

In Stenske’s writing, he also states that “the child who acts out, is, in essence, attempting to initiate some form of rejection from parents, teachers, peers and others in order to prove that she is unlovable or she finds herself rejecting these same people prior to being rejected by them. This type of child is obviously troubled and it is easy to identify as needing help. However, parents and therapists often try to counsel the child into acting more appropriately, instilling tough love or even unknowingly furthering the child’s abandonment issues by sending them to boarding school, camp or other such institutions. Rarely do adoptive parents and counselors see this behavior as a reaction to her adoption trauma. They are never truly treating the source of the wound.” It may not have seemed that way from outsiders, as my demeanor could change quickly from inside the walls of my home to the living room of family friends to the chapel of my parent’s church, but my relationship with my family was deteriorating quickly, emancipation was thrown out on the table (always by me, a threat to induce…something?) and by the time I graduated high school, fled to Huntington Beach to live out an idea of what I thought would be an The Endless Summer: a life devoid of parents, living with an older boy who owned a BMW and whole lot of hair gel, in a shitty apartment smack dab across from the beach no less.

As I emerged from that particularly difficult time of life and transformed into somewhat more of a socially acceptable version of myself, I found the terms “mature for your age” and “articulate” being used by others to describe me more often, although apparently I had faked enough adults in previous years to think so even before-or so I like to think. In Stenske’s book he writes “for the compliant child the situation can actually be much more devastating. As a compliant child who is either not causing problems or actually well engaged and visibly successful, she is not seen as having any problems at all. Parents see this child as well adjusted to life, including being adopted, and with no outwardly troubling signs of concern, this child is often overlooked and not given any form of counseling or assistance in dealing with life or emotional wounds. It is difficult for anyone to see that the child who is often referred to as, “mature for her age” or “pleasant and articulate,” is actually in equal distress to the child who is acting out. Both are hurting, both are devastated by the trauma of relinquishment and both have no way to articulate, understand, contextualize or grieve the loss they have endured.” I may not have gotten my shit together, at least a bit more, until later in my years-but the wounds are most likely still there, the sutures still waiting to be taken out or at the very least, examined.

I am asked by nearly almost everyone who has found that I’m adopted if I have the urge to seek out my birth mother or father (it would be near impossible, as they are not together-nor truly ever were technically speaking). Truthfully, no, I have no strong, pushing desire to meet either one of them. If either had intent to meet me, I would happily oblige but at this point in my life, I can’t understand expelling the energy for something that could possibly just mean…nothing. So no, I do not plan on searching out my birth parents. Not out of anger, nor out of fear-just simply that I look back on my life and as riddled with teenage angsty conflict as it was, it has been full, beautiful, and blessed. My mother and I are as close as a mother and daughter can ever be and our relationship continues to thread itself closer and closer in ways unpredictable, frustrating, and wonderful and my father lives in my memories stronger than ever, and any wounds (emotionally or physically) I inflicted or continue to inflict on my younger sister seem to just be part of growing pains and sisterly love. Well, she might argue against that but you can ask her that yourself if so inclined.

My sister, also adopted, will be visiting her birthplace in Malaysia in the next few weeks as she begins her journey to Asia where she’ll eventually end up in Phnom Penh for a month and a half. Before she arrives here, she will return to the nunnery where she was held for two weeks before my mom and dad unexpectedly added another daughter to their family. I can’t begin to imagine how her interaction with this place and these people will go and how she will receive the experience.

When Googling “adoption abandonment issues”, some of the first things that show up in the search feed are Yahoo Forums asking questions like “am I the only one who deals with adoption abandonment issues?” or “why do I feel abandoned all the time? Is it because I’m adopted?”. That’s got to tell you something right there that there has to be a correlation between the two.

While it’s doubtful that I’ll go run out and read all of the adopted kids books like Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self by authors Brodzinsky, Schechter, and Marantz or The Primal Wound by Nancy Newton Verrier (although very great reads as it seems), the understanding that maybe just as divorce affects a child, so does adoption-it’s not a secret, it’s nothing new, and it’s something to explore, and maybe even be excited about. A new frontier of understanding, perhaps.

*On a side note, it was strange to stumble across this wordpress that was apparently made when my dad died. I was searching Hal Mischke in hopes that there were more photos of him posted from other people that I might not have on my computer and it came up. I can’t bring myself to read the 70 comments posted yet. Maybe that will be part of this new self study. We’ll see.

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