My “What Ifs” Are Not About You

Growing up I always knew I was adopted. It never bothered me. I never questioned it. It just was. Not until sophomore year of high school did I begin wondering about my adoption. I remember being in biology class, talking about genetics, and feeling very lost. Not lost in the material, but lost in myself. All around me classmates were talking about who they got their eyes, nose, mouth, and ears from. I realized I would never know these things. I always heard people telling my older siblings (my parents’ biological children) they looked like either my mom or my dad. Where it never bothered me before, now it did. I would never hear anyone say those things to me. In that moment I felt a deep loss, a loss I had never felt before. And so began my series of “what ifs.”

“What if I hadn’t been adopted? What if I had been adopted at an older age? What if I had lived with my birth parents? What if I had been adopted by someone else? What if I had gotten to choose whether or not I wanted to be adopted? What if I had a part in the decision? What if I had biological brothers or sisters? What if cancer was prevalent in my family? What if there were other diseases? What if China didn’t have the one-child policy? What if I had been a boy? What if my birth parents were looking for me? What if…..”

In the midst of all these questions I lost all sense of who I was. I felt as if my whole life was one big lie, one big unknown. I didn’t want to think about my adoption. I didn’t want to deal with the questions now bombarding my life. The chaos and emotions these questions ensued were unwelcome. I felt everything: anger, hurt, loss, pain, and guilt. I felt guilty for having these questions, for even entertaining them. Shouldn’t I be happy, shouldn’t I be grateful, shouldn’t I be rejoicing? I felt I didn’t have the right to feel these emotions or ask these questions.

As a result, I never voiced these questions to my parents. I never wanted them to feel hurt. I didn’t want them to wonder if they had done something wrong. I didn’t want them to think that I questioned their love or didn’t love them in return. I also didn’t want them to feel attacked and in response get defensive. I was afraid they wouldn’t take my pain, anger, hurt, and loss seriously. I was afraid that instead of guiding me through my questions, they would ignore them. I was afraid of being seen as being selfish and ungrateful for all they’ve done. Because of fear and guilt I hid myself behind a mask. I didn’t allow anyone to see the pain I was going through. I didn’t allow anyone to know about the internal struggles going on.

Adoptive parents, it’s common for some adoptees to have these types of questions. The reason I titled this “My What Ifs Are Not About You” is because I want adoptive parents to know, at least for me, that my “what if” questions were never about them. They didn’t stem from anything they did or didn’t do. These questions didn’t come about because I thought they were lacking as parents. They weren’t from feeling unloved or unwanted by them. They weren’t from me wishing for a different life or different parents. Instead, these questions came from a place of pain and loss. I was adopted at two and a half. It was difficult for me to comprehend that those first couple years were totally erased from my life. No documentation, no scrapbooks, no home videos. It was as if I didn’t exist.

I wish I hadn’t allowed guilt and fear to keep me silent. I wish I had known that asking questions and having emotions beyond joy and happiness were valid and understandable. I don’t blame my parents at all. I know adoption isn’t easy on adoptive parents. I know they have their own questions and probably their own “what ifs.”

I want to encourage parents to open the door for their child to talk about their adoption. For me, I needed my parents to take the first step. I needed to know they would react out of love and not hurt. I needed to know they would listen and not dismiss. I wish that early on I had heard something like “I know you may not have questions now, but you may in the future. I want you to know if that happens, I’m here, ready to listen.” I also want adoptees to know that it’s okay to ask these questions. It’s okay to wonder. Don’t feel guilty. Having “what if” questions is understandable and valid. I want you to know you don’t have to remain silent. My hope is that whatever is holding you back from speaking, no longer would.


23 thoughts on “My “What Ifs” Are Not About You

    1. I’m glad you’ve been able to get past the guilt and begin looking for answers. It’s a difficult thing to get past and can weigh you down. I hope you’ve been able to find people who support you and encourage you in your own journey.

  1. Beautifully written. My son is 4 1/2 and already has some pretty deep questions about his adoption. I’m so thankful for voices like yours to help me prepare to be there for him through all of his emotions and wonderings.

    1. Thanks Sarah for your kind words! Your son will definitely appreciate your support and love during his journey. I hope you feel encouraged and know that his questions are not a reflection on you as a parent.

  2. You’ve spoken volumes and volumes of wisdom and helpful advice in this one blog piece! Thank you for sharing.

    It was such an eye-opener to me when I finally “got it” that my daughter’s feelings about her adoption were not about me failing her as a parent. That understanding has made such a huge improvement in my ability to understand and support her.

    1. Thank you Debbie! I think there are fears on both sides, which is totally understandable. I think when both adoptive parents and adoptees have a better understanding of each other it opens the way for healthy communication. I’m so glad you’re at a place where you can better understand and support your daughter. I know she appreciates your love, support and listening ear!

  3. thank you! I know your words will help at least one person, my daughter. I hope she never feels any guilt about normal feelings and questions about her adoption, but, as your article states, I must make sure I TELL her that.

    1. I’m so glad this was helpful. Knowing that you’ll listen and love her through her feelings and questions will definitely help your daughter. I’m happy that you’re willing to take that step, willing to create a safe environment for her to be open and honest.

  4. Adoption has a foundation in trauma. Knowing the consequences of closed adoptions, society changed the way adoptions are done… 90%of adoptions are open to some degree since the late 1980s. This leaves an aging population with health concerns and no way to get answers. States are now restoring access. In my state we have we need people standing up for equal access to original birth certificateso in all statez. Be part of the solution.

  5. I’m a 48 year old adoptee recently in reunion with my birth mom.

    I so wish my adoptive parents received this advance when I was growing up. To this day, I fear telling my mom about my reunion because I don’t want to hurt her. Isn’t that ridiculous!

    I had most of these thoughts through my middle school and high school years. Because I didn’t have a place to share them, I too packed them away. I believed that I was only allowed to to show joy and happiness from my adoption. It wasn’t until Ohio opened its adoption records this year that I was able to unpack my emotions. It’s been a good year.

    1. Thank you for sharing Marni! I know it’s not easy voicing this and its definitely not easy navigating through these questions and emotions alone. I’m so glad that this past year has been good! It’s neat that you’ve been able to experience a reunion and are now able to get some of the unknowns answered. I hope that you feel encouraged to share what’s going on with your mom. I hope that someday you’ll be able to tell her about the reunion. Blessings as you continue on your journey!

  6. Beautifully written! This mirrors our son’s experience. All adoptive parents should read this when they adopt their children.

  7. This speaks to me as an adoptive mom to two children who really really don’t wan’t to talk about adoption issues. Your writing is powerful, and your message more so. Thank you!

    1. Thank you! I am glad this was helpful. I know it’s not easy for adoptive parents either. Each child is different. I have other adopted siblings who do not talk about their adoption and do not seem affected by it. We each handle our stories differently.

  8. Thank you for sharing your what ifs now. As the child of survivors of a genocide, I have often wondered how one can exist without wondering about alternatives to painful, frustrating blockades that prevent our truly knowing ourselves. You’ve put this all beautifully. Thank you.

  9. This: I know you may not have questions now, but you may in the future. I want you to know if that happens, I’m here, ready to listen.

    Beautiful! And I can see you already know about parenting, too, no matter how you do so in your life. Thank you for sharing!

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